Williamson Parents Speak Out for Diversity, Inclusion

A group known as One WillCo helped organize a parent response to a plan by Williamson County Schools to focus attention on diversity in the district and address issues of systemic racism.

Here’s more from a press release:

Before tonight’s school board meeting, over 100 community members joined outside the Williamson County Admin Complex to show support of the district’s hiring of “Fostering Healthy Solutions” and their efforts to support diversity and inclusion in the district. Fifteen community members spoke in gratitude during the period of public comment.  

Revida Rahman, mom to two children in Williamson County Schools reminded everyone that “Brown v. Board of Education was decided 67 years ago today. If your child hasn’t experienced racism at school, that’s good for you, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen to other kids. Our students have the right to a safe environment. If you aren’t empathetic to children being harmed by racism, please stop trying to prevent action. We have to do something and the time to act is now.” 

Lee Cooke also spoke in support of diversity work. He has 3 children in WCS and recognized that people of color are grossly underrepresented in Williamson County, even on the Board and on the faculty and staff. He continued, “And I find it concerning and disappointing that there is no formal training for faculty around unconscious bias. I go through it twice a year with my corporate job, so I’m not sure why teachers don’t get the same training. We need a better system of reporting & tracking so students feel safe reporting incidents.”

Dustin Koctar lives in District 12 and has 3 kids in elementary school. “I want to thank you for hiring FHS (Fostering Healthy Solutions) for much-needed assistance and guidance to make schools safer and more welcoming for everyone. You put your reputations at risk and opened yourselves up to harassment and hate. I’m asking you to stay the course and continue the support.” He also addressed fellow white people in the crowd, “we can move past the discomfort you may feel about this. If left unattended, white guilt can become the best friend of white supremacy. Children should be able to see people who look like them. We support the children who feel powerless.”

Emily Miller, a mother with one child in WCS and one attending soon, and an admin of the “Together Nolensville” Facebook Group also spoke, “Thank you to the Board for hard work in all areas of education and for hiring FHS, a qualified third party to help us make difficult decisions. As a white mom of white kids, this still matters to me, as it should to everyone. We want schools to be a safe and comfortable place for incident reporting and accountability. Thank you, and keep up the good work you’re doing.”

Submitted Photo

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

Your support$5 or more – makes publishing education news possible.

Williamson County Group to Make Stand for Diversity & Inclusion

A group known as OneWillCo plans to be in attendance at tonight’s Williamson County School Board meeting to show support for efforts to promote diversity and inclusion in the district’s schools.

Here’s more from a press statement provided by the group:

A large group of parents and community members will show up at tonight’s school board meeting to show public support of the efforts by the WCS School Board and “Fostering Healthy Solutions”  to promote diversity and equality in Williamson County Schools.

“We are anticipating a large show of support tonight to further the efforts that Williamson County Schools has already started,” said Jennifer Cortez, one of the founders of OneWillCo. “We are grateful to Superintendent Jason Golden and our school board for taking courageous and necessary steps to address the racial harassment that continues to be a blight on our local schools. Our focus is straightforward. We want reasonable measures put in place to give our students of color the value and support they have needed and deserved for far too long. The responsibility rests on our whole community to support these crucial efforts.”

The move from the group comes as issues around race and diversity are receiving increasing attention in Williamson County and across the state.

In fact, the Tennessee General Assembly passed legislation that specifically prohibits the teaching of so-called “Critical Race Theory.”

Chalkbeat has more on that move:

Legal scholars are questioning whether a recently passed bill that seeks to restrict Tennessee educators’ teachings about race and racism will pass legal muster given past precedent, including one case that dates back 50 years.

The GOP-backed measure, which passed in the Tennessee House and Senate among partisan lines, would penalize school districts if teachers tie past and present events to white privilege, institutional racism, and unconscious bias.

“This is a poorly written bill that promotes a specific agenda, threatens academic freedom, and suffers from serious overbreadth and vagueness problems,” said Hudson, a law professor at Belmont University who specializes in first amendment issues.

Not surprisingly, state Senator Brian Kelsey and the law firm where he works support the measure:

One organization that supports the bill is the Chicago-based Liberty Justice Center, a public interest firm where State Senator Brian Kelsey of Germantown serves as a senior attorney. Kelsey supported the Senate version of the bill.

A number of groups across the state are actively encouraging Gov. Bill Lee to veto the measure. These groups include NOAH (Nashville), MICAH (Memphis), and CALEB (Chattanooga) as well as the Tennessee Educators of Color Alliance, the Tennessee Education Association, and the ACLU.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

Your support$5 or more – makes publishing education news possible.

April Showers

Erik Schelzig in the Tennessee Journal’s On the Hill blog notes that Tennessee’s April revenues were $600 million more than the budgeted estimate.

Go ahead, read that again. In one month, the state collected $600 million more than planned.

Here’s more from Schelzig:

Tennessee’s general fund revenue collections were nearly $600 million above estimates in April, bringing the state’s surplus to $1.9 billion through the first nine months of the budget year.

So, with three months left in the fiscal year, the state is nearly $2 billion ahead of where it planned to be. Even if the surpluses drop off, the state is well on its way to a surplus significantly in excess of $2 billion.

To put this in perspective, the state is $1.7 billion behind where it should be in terms of funding public schools according to a bipartisan legislative commission.

For further perspective, the April surplus alone is three times what Gov. Bill Lee allocated in new education funding for the entire 2021-22 fiscal year.

Tennessee policymakers, who recently adjourned their legislative session, could have paid for at least a third of the school funding shortfall with JUST the April surplus. Of course, that would assume these lawmakers are serious when they say they want to fully fund schools.

To be clear, making even a $600 million down payment on the necessary investments in schools would leave the state with a surplus approaching $1.4 billion and three months left in the budget year.

When all is said and done for the year, it is likely the entire $1.7 billion education funding deficit could be made up and the state would have half a billion dollars or more for savings and other expenses or projects.

For further clarity, not a single Tennessee taxpayer would see any tax increase if schools were funded from this surplus. In fact, it is very likely that a state investment in schools that would make up for the current funding shortfall would actually help local governments keep property taxes low.

This year, groups that typically stay out of the school funding fight like the Nashville Public Education Foundation and the League of Women Voters got involved and urged Lee and lawmakers to make use of this historic surplus to make significant new investments in public education. Those calls, of course, were ignored.

We often hear Tennessee policymakers say they want our state’s schools to be the best in the nation. No doubt, your own lawmaker has probably told you school funding is among their top priorities. However, when there was a giant surplus and the ability to make a huge investment in our schools without raising taxes one cent, these same lawmakers simply walked away. They walked away from our public schools, our students, and our teachers.

In times of tight budgets or when funding schools means raising taxes, it may be understandable that the state is cautious when it comes to investment in public education. However, when a single month’s surplus is $600 million and the overall revenue picture is historic in terms of the excess cash available, there is simply no excuse for not investing in education. The only answer at this point is that lawmakers and our Governor just don’t support our schools.

Tennessee consistently ranks near the bottom in the nation when it comes to school funding. We have an historic opportunity to change that. And, we have policy leaders who just aren’t interested.

raindrops
Photo by Vlad Chețan on Pexels.com

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

Your support$5 or more – makes publishing education news possible.

A Warning on Privatization

This article originally appeared in The Progressive.

In 2012, Tennessee’s began a scheme known as the Achievement School District, or ASD. The goal was simple and bold: Take a handful of schools in the bottom 5 percent of student achievement, according to state test scores, and move those schools into the top 25 percent in student achievement in just five years.

This miraculous shift, officials claimed, would be accomplished by placing schools under a new state agency, which would then determine an intervention strategy that might include turning a standard public school over to a charter operator. Any school anywhere in the state would be eligible, so long as it was on the “priority schools” list. As a whole, the schools would be governed by their own “district,” complete with a superintendent who reported directly to the commissioner of education.

Tennessee’s commissioner of education at the time, Kevin Huffman, hired charter operator Chris Barbic to run the new district. Barbic’s arrival coincided with the takeover of a first cohort of schools by the ASD, along with the unveiling of his plan to generate the expected turnaround.

So what was that plan, exactly? 

Well, of course, it was to turn all the priority schools over to charter operators. After all, Barbic reasoned, other charter school leaders would know just what to do with entire schools from urban districts with high levels of entrenched poverty.

But the charter school plan had another, more sinister impact. Tennessee’s charter school law gave charter operators ten year charters from the granting district. Since the ASD had taken over the local schools (most of them in Memphis), the ASD was now the charter-granting district. Now, schools in the ASD would not be eligible to return to their home districts for ten years, rather than the five years envisioned in the initial ASD legislation.

By executing the charter switch, Huffman and Barbic had immediately doubled the amount of time they would have to produce results with their education experiment, even though both of them would be gone by the time the ten-year period was up.

Still, the plan was bold and its promises were big. Almost immediately, there were problems. 

Some charter operators dropped out, and new operators swooped in. A series of directors attempted to run the rapidly sinking ship.

There were even Thunderdome-like contests early on to decide which schools would be handed over to charter operators, despite parent and community objections.

In 2020, New York City math teacher and popular blogger Gary Rubinstein, who tracked the ASD from its inception, reported the ASD’s “initial promise” to take over the bottom 5 percent of schools and “catapult them into the top 25 percent in five years” had “completely failed . . . . Chris Barbic resigned, Kevin Huffman resigned, Barbic’s replacement resigned.  Of the thirty schools, they nearly all stayed in the bottom 5 percent except a few that catapulted into the bottom 10 percent.”

When Barbic resigned after just a few years on the job, Chalkbeat reported, he “offered a dim prognosis” on the fate of the ASD. “As a charter school founder, I did my fair share of chest pounding over great results,” he wrote. “I’ve learned that getting these same results in a zoned neighborhood school environment is much harder.”

Still, the ASD muddled forward. Now, the failed experiment is at the end of its run. Multiple groups of students have traveled in and out of charter doors with the end result being disruption, displacement, and discouraging results.

As the tenth year runs out, questions remain about exactly how to transition the schools back to their districts. Funny, it always seemed so easy to just move students and their families to charter schools and then to other charter schools as reformers scrambled to manipulate student populations in search of ever-elusive results. 

Even so, it seemed as if the ASD had reached its end.

In March, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee, a Repubican, announced yet another plan to continue the district. More specifically, Lee wants to allow a handful of his personal favorite charter operators to continue to manage some select ASD schools. 

Not content to let a really bad idea die, Lee is backing legislation that would allow some schools to move from the ASD to the jurisdiction of the state’s relatively new Charter School Commission. That Commission was created by Lee in his first year as governor in order to circumvent the rejection of charter schools by local school boards.

Another piece of legislation, which has stalled for now, would allow Lee’s commissioner of education to take over an entire district by firing the director of schools and replacing the elected school board. This circumvention of democracy was widely seen as a way for Lee to send a message to the outspoken school boards in Memphis and Nashville that they’d better fall in line or else.

Of course, it hasn’t been lost on observers that Memphis and Nashville are suing the state, challenging the adequacy of the school funding formula. While the legislation is on hold for now, the point is clear: Districts are to do what the governor says and stay quiet when they disagree.

In fact, at a recent press event discussing the use of federal stimulus funds by local districts, Lee suggested that the state’s department of education would be watching districts to ensure they spent the money the right way. House Education Committee Chair Mark White went one step further, saying that he would be expecting tremendous jumps in student performance in exchange for this money. 

Education advocates around the country should beware these sorts of moves—power grabs cloaked in the guise of “assistance or guidance,” legislation to extend failed reform models, and/or the repackaging of proven reform failures as something shiny and new.

selective focus photography of bookshelf with books
Photo by Element5 Digital on Pexels.com

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

Your support – $5 or more – makes publishing education news possible.

Welcome to the Charter Party

On Friday afternoon before Mother’s Day weekend and just after the Tennessee General Assembly had adjourned, the Tennessee Department of Education announced 15 grants for charter school applicants – including grants for charter applications in several districts that do not currently authorize any charter schools – Rutherford County, Montgomery County, Millington Municipal, Fayette County, and Williamson County. The grants would allow applicants to plan and design their applications, and the applicants could ultimately bypass local school districts and receive charter authorization from Gov. Lee’s “Super Charter Commission.” The grants could also result in usurping the authority of elected school boards in Shelby, Hamilton, and Davidson counties.

Here’s more from a TNDOE press release:

Today, the Tennessee Department of Education announced that 15 applicants have been awarded subgrants under the Charter School Expansion Grant. These funds are intended to support sponsors throughout the planning, design, application, and potential launch of new charter schools in the state.

These subgrants will fund up to 8,800 new high-quality charter school seats that, subject to authorizer approval, will be available to students in five districts that currently do not have any charter schools and in three districts that already authorize charter schools.

Subgrants totaling $6.3 million were awarded primarily from the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund (GEER), which is the second GEER grant designed specifically to support charter schools, with additional funds from the Charter School Program grant.

And, the key line about subverting the will of voters in these districts:

The review process for charter school applications for the 2022-23 school year is ongoing and the subgrant awards are contingent upon approval of the proposed charter school by the applicants’ respective school districts or, if an appeal occurs, the Tennessee Public Charter School Commission. (emphasis added).

That’s right, school privatization is coming to Tennessee in suburban and rural districts whether voters want it or not. While Lee’s voucher scheme is bogged down in court, Lee is acting unilaterally to charterize Tennessee’s public schools.

This is exactly what Memphis state Rep. Antonio Parkinson said would happen back in 2019:

Of course, this should come as no surprise to anyone paying attention to Lee and his affinity for privatization.

No word yet from Republican lawmakers in Fayette, Montgomery, Rutherford, or Williamson counties on how they feel about Lee pushing charters in their areas without seeking legislative approval.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

Your support – $5 or more – makes publishing education news possible.

Rhetoric vs. Reality: Bill Lee School Funding Edition

As the Tennessee General Assembly passed Gov. Bill Lee’s budget today which included maintaining the woefully inadequate status quo for school funding, the Tennessee Education Association (TEA) offered the following statement expressing their disappointment:

“The budget passed by the General Assembly is disappointing when we have a historic opportunity to get Tennessee out of the bottom five in education funding. With a record revenue surplus and hundreds of millions unappropriated, this was the time to stop underfunding our schools.

There were bills to provide for more nurses, counselors, RTI specialists and social workers that our students need today and moving forward to meet their mental and academic challenges cause by the pandemic and the problems of chronic underfunding. Instead, we saw a trust fund set up that will cover barely a fraction of the needs years down the road.    

It’s unconscionable for state leaders to not include significant increases for K-12 funding, especially at a time when the state has racked up $1.42 billion in surplus year-to-date. The money is there to make a significant increase to K-12 funding, but Gov. Lee and the General Assembly have instead chosen to continue stuffing mattresses full of cash. 

Elected officials love to claim that Tennessee students, educators and public schools are top priorities, but their action on the state budget tells a different story. As the old saying goes, it’s time to put their money where their mouth is.”

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

Your support – $5 or more – makes publishing education news possible.

League of Women Voters Calls for Action on School Funding

In an action alert email, the League of Women Voters encouraged members and supporters to push Gov. Bill Lee and the General Assembly to make significant new investments in public education.

Here’s the text of that email:

Tennessee continues to neglect its public schools.  The state consistently ranks as one of the bottom five for public school funding. During the current legislative session, numerous bills have been introduced by members from both sides of the aisle to provide additional funds for some of our public schools’ urgent needs. Among those needs are adequately funding school counselors, social workers, school nurses, and staff to support state-mandated intervention programs.  None of these bills have passed yet.

This is the time to invest in our schools and our children. With a current budget surplus exceeding $2 billion this year and cash reserves exceeding $7 billion, this is the moment for Tennessee to support quality education in  every county.

The League of Women Voters of Tennessee was extremely disappointed that Governor Lee did not address the state’s inadequate funding formula of public schools in his annual budget.  However, it is not too late for the legislature to make meaningful investments in our students through their actions in setting next year’s state budget.

Please write or call the governor and your legislators and urge them to support our students and our schools.

Governor Bill Lee,  bill.lee@tn.gov and copy his assistant, caroleanne.orsborn@tn.gov

Find your senator and representative at https://wapp.capitol.tn.gov/Apps/fmlv3/lookup.aspx.
pexels-photo-164527.jpeg
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

Your support$5 or more – makes publishing education news possible.

Paid For By . . .

At the end of this nice, happy story welcoming a new reporter to the education beat at WPLN, there’s a very interesting sentence:

Nashville Public Radio thanks the Thorne Family Charitable Fund, the Scarlett Foundation, the HCA Healthcare Foundation, the Joe C. Davis Foundation and the Andrew Allen Foundation for their generous support of our education beat.

It’s great that the education beat has some solid financial support. What’s noteworthy, though, is that two of the five sponsors of education news are also hard core privatization advocates.

First, there’s the Scarlett Foundation. This group, headed up by Joe Scarlett, is solidly in the privatization camp. Plus, as the Scarlett Foundation’s page notes about their board chair:

He serves as chairman of the Scarlett Hotel Group and vice-chairman of the Beacon Center of Tennessee.

Yes, THAT Beacon Center – the conservative group pushing policy schemes like school vouchers and opposing meaningful investment in public schools.

Of course, the Scarlett Foundation was also involved in Metro Nashville School Board elections in 2016 under the guise of a group called Nashville Rise:

Project Renaissance Co-CEO Wendy Tucker refused to identify who is currently funding the group’s efforts, saying some of the money people did not want to be identified.

$250,000 from the Joe C. Davis Foundation in Nashville, which boasts that it is focused “on increasing the supply of high-performing charter schools.”

Project Renaissance, of course, was the project of former Nashville Mayor and charter backer Karl Dean.

And, of course, there’s the The Joe C. Davis Foundation which was also involved in that 2016 campaign. Sitting on the board of the Davis Foundation is Bill DeLoache:

In an annual report filed with the Secretary of State earlier this month, Project Renaissance named several members to its board, all with ties to the controversial independently-run publicly-funded schools known as charter schools. Among them is Bill DeLoache, a wealthy charter school backer who also sits on the board for the Tennessee Charter School Center.

DeLoache has a long history of advocacy for charters:

[Charter school company] Beacon was founded as Alternative Public Schools Inc. in Nashville in 1992 by local businessmen Bill DeLoache Jr. and John Eason. Even after the company moved to Westborough, Mass., and changed its name to Beacon, DeLoache remained chairman.

The bottom line is this: Those who would privatize our public schools will go to any lengths to ensure they control the message on education issues. Kudos to WPLN for their transparency here. However, just hearing the list of names of foundations only tells part of the story. It’s important to understand the agenda advanced by those who want to appear to be philanthropic voices just supporting local public radio.

Photo by Fringer Cat on Unsplash

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

Your support – $5 or more – makes publishing education news possible.

Mattresses Full of Cash

On the heels of the Department of Revenue’s announcement today that the state has once again exceeded monthly revenue projections, the Tennessee Education Association (TEA) released a statement accusing Gov. Bill Lee of stuffing mattresses full of cash rather than spending money on K-12 education.

Here’s the statement from TEA:

“Today’s announcement on state revenues from the Department of Finance and Administration further validates TEA’s criticism of Gov. Bill Lee’s budget amendment released earlier this week. 

The state has racked up $1.42 billion in surplus year-to-date. The money is there to make a significant increase to K-12 funding. Gov. Lee is choosing to stuff mattresses full of cash instead of investing in Tennessee students. 

We can and must do better by our students, educators and public schools. It’s time for state leaders to choose to get Tennessee out of the bottom five for state investment per student.”

TEA’s statement comes in the same week Lee released a budget amendment with little new money for public schools. Earlier in the week, the Tennessee Public Education Coalition (TPEC) called on Lee to improve his budget amendment by directing more funds to public schools.

Tennessee’s coffers are awash in excess revenue, and our schools’ needs are immense. Tennessee’s surplus for the current fiscal year, with over five months to go, is over $1.3 billion, with lawmakers expected to have at least $3.1 billion in excess revenue to budget in the current cycle. Tennessee also has $7.5 billion in cash reserves. Our children need excellent schools, and our teachers need adequate pay. Public schools need more resources- social workers, school nurses, counselors, and adequate support staff. With tax revenues exceeding state expenses by more than $2 billion per year and more than $7 billion cash reserves, there is no longer any excuse for failing to invest in our children.

Photo by Haley Owens on Unsplash

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

Your support – $5 or more – makes publishing education news possible.

EdCo to Host “Antiracist Classroom” Event

April 24 at 11:30 AM (CT) The Educators’ Cooperative (EdCo) will  host a virtual conversation titled “Antiracist Teaching, Learning, and Leading from the Classroom:  Addressing the legacies of segregation and white supremacy in our schools, and adjusting our lenses with  Critical Race Theory in education.” The teachers of EdCo are dedicated to facilitating this essential antiracist  work cross-sector, for the benefit of all students. Registration for the event, which is offered to educators at  no cost, is now open at educatorscooperative.org. Non-educators may purchase a ticket for $75.  

The event will feature three expert panelists: 

Dr. Gloria Ladson Billings is a Teacher, Author, Professor, and Researcher whose work is fundamental in  the application of Critical Race Theory in education; she coined the terminology “Culturally Relevant  Pedagogy.” Her books include The Dreamkeepers: Successful Teachers of African American Children and  Crossing Over to Canaan: The Journey of New Teachers in Diverse Classrooms.  

Dr. Roni Ellington, Assistant Professor in Mathematics Education at Morgan State University, founded  the Transforming STEM Network to promote diversity and inclusion in STEM education. She is the  principal investigator on a National Science Foundation grant focused on incorporating culturally  responsive teaching into university mathematics classrooms.  

Ashford Hughes is the Executive Officer for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion for Metro Nashville Public  Schools, where he designs and implements initiatives that address academic and social-emotional  learning needs of the district’s diverse populations. He is Co-chairman of the Nashville My Brother’s  Keeper Network – a coalition that works to improve life outcomes for boys and young men of color  through internal agency policy review, education, and employment opportunities.  

EdCo Executive Director Greg O’Loughlin is “excited about this unique opportunity for teachers to learn  together from a leading scholar in the field and the researchers and community leaders who do the  work every day.” The no-cost tickets for educators are provided through the generosity of The  Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee.