The Erosion of Local Control

Gov. Bill Lee is no fan of local school boards or public education. Even before he was a candidate for governor, he was advocating for statewide privatization of K-12 education.

Now, Lee’s handpicked charter school commission – an agency of unelected bureaucrats tasked with advancing school privatization – is going about the business of handing taxpayer dollars to private entities.

NewsChannel5’s Phil Williams reports on the Commission’s unanimous decision to overturn a vote by Nashville’s school board:

A state board voted Wednesday to overrule the Metro Nashville school board, approving two new privately operated charter schools in southeast Nashville that local school officials say they don’t need.

By an 8-0 vote, the Tennessee Public Charter School Commission approved a request from KIPP Nashville to open an elementary school and middle school — both funded by taxpayers.

Later this month, the commission will hear an appeal from Founders Classical Academy, a group previously associated with the controversial Hillsdale College, to open charter schools in Franklin and Hendersonville over the objections of the local school boards.

This is no surprise – Lee has consistently expressed a desire to suppress the voices of voters and advance a school privatization agenda.

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Lawmaker Shocked that Gov. Lee Means What He Says

Gov. Bill Lee has been shocking policymakers and pundits for a long time now simply by telling the truth about his school privatization agenda.

At a recent legislative hearing, lawmakers – some of whom supported creating the Tennessee Public Charter School Commission – expressed surprise that the law they passed back in 2019 actually does what it says.

https://twitter.com/TheTNHoller/status/1575487115722227712?s=20&t=OrTFinies5Ueh76rY-s27w

Gov. Lee has been saying this since BEFORE he was even a candidate for governor.

Now that his policies are potentially impacting their districts, policymakers are starting to pay attention. Still no indication they’ll actually do anything to stop it.

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A Plague of Snakes?

Will a plague of snakes soon shut down Tennessee’s rural schools? Watch a clip from a recent legislative hearing to find out:

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Emily’s Got Questions

MNPS school board member Emily Masters has some questions about a survey recently publicized by the Nashville Public Education Foundation (NPEF).

Masters took to her campaign blog to post some thoughts about the survey – and took issue especially with the idea that there is significant support among Nashvillians for the state’s new school funding formula, TISA.

While Masters goes into some detail about survey methodology and survey questions, she also uses a paragraph to point out her belief that NPEF is not aligning itself with the goals of MNPS.

The thing I find most interesting about NPEF is that their NTEE (National Taxonomy of Exempt Entities) code is B11 (Single Organization Support: Educational Institutions and Related Activities), and the mission they state on their FY20 990 filing (the most recent one publicly available) with the IRS is “to ensure every child in Nashville has access to a great public education,” so clearly that “single organization” they’re supposed to be supporting is Metro Nashville Public Schools. And yet – they do things that contradict that, such as supporting legislation that clearly isn’t in the best interests of public school students in Nashville and conducting surveys about education without collaborating with the very organization they’re created to support.

You can read more from Masters about the poll, the press release, and the results here.

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Williamson Parents Speak Out Against Charter School

Founders Classical Academy is a charter school that has applied to operate in Williamson County. That application was rejected – not once, but twice by the Williamson County School Board.

Now, Founders is appealing to the Tennessee Charter School Commission. If the Commission grants the appeal, Founders will open in Williamson County despite the objection of the elected school board.

Parents in Williamson County don’t seem happy about this possibility.

Here’s more from NewsBreak:

Jeni Davis, lifelong Tennessean, and parent of a Williamson County Schools student and a public school advocate, shared why she wants the State Charter School Commission to vote against Founders Classical Academy forcing themselves into the Williamson County Schools. “First of all, we believe that children across the state – all Tennessee children – deserve access to a high quality education with high quality curriculum that meets state standards and prepares all students to become successful and productive adult members of our community. And these classical charter schools, including Founders Classical Academy, do not meet these standards and putting them into our communities would be a great disservice to our students. This is why the school board has already voted against the school twice.”

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Sumner Advocates Speak Out Against Charter School

A group of public education advocates in Sumner County spoke out against Founders Classical Academy’s charter application this week.

Here’s more from NewsBreak:

A group of public education advocates gathered today at a hearing by the Tennessee State Charter School Commission in Sumner County. The group urged the Commission to reject a charter school application from Founders Classical Academy. The Sumner County School Board previously rejected the application from Founders and the charter school is now appealing to the State Commission.

Rev. Matt Steinhauer, lifelong Sumner County resident and retired ELCA pastor, emphasized that the local school board has already voted twice against this charter school and that if the State Charter School Commission votes to allow Founders Classical Academy into their community it would override the will of the community and the school board. “I think we can all agree that all Tennessee children, all of them, deserve access to a high-quality education with high quality curriculum that meets state standards and prepares all students to become successful and productive adult members of our community. Forcing charter schools into our local school districts makes this harder to achieve when what we should be doing is making sure that our public community schools are invested in as much as any other state.” 

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Perception of Nashville Schools Improving

The Nashville Public Education Foundation (NPEF) released the results of its annual poll and the numbers indicate that the public now has a more favorable view of MNPS. Still, more than half of those polled hold a negative view of Nashville’s schools.

Here’s more from a press release:

A recent poll conducted by Impact Research for the Nashville Public Education Foundation shows an improvement in Nashvillians’ perception of the city’s public schools. The results show an 11-point upswing in residents’ perceptions of local public schools, from a 62% negative rating in 2021 to roughly half (51%) this year. The data further suggests that Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) families are more encouraged by recent improvements, as 50% of public school parents approve of the job the district is doing educating students  up 16 points from last year.

Director of Schools Adrienne Battle hailed the results as a sign of the district’s focus on students.

“We are excited that MNPS families are seeing and experiencing the work being done across the district to accelerate the learning progress of our students and move the district forward to ensure every student is known,” said Dr. Adrienne Battle, Director of Schools. “I’m thankful for the support we’ve received from Mayor Cooper, the Metro Council, and our Board of Education through record investments in MNPS that have helped us achieve our level 5 TVAAS status and a record 48 Reward Schools in the last school year. We look forward to building on these foundations to create even greater support for public schools in Nashville.”

A note on TISA:

The poll also asked Nashvillians about a high-profile issue affecting public schools in the past year – the Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement (TISA), the state’s new school funding formula. While the overwhelming majority (69%) of Nashvillians have not heard about the state’s new school funding formula, those who are aware of TISA are generally split on their support. Within the population who say they are aware of TISA, 41% support it while 46% oppose the funding formula. 

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Parents Ask State Court to End Voucher Program

Parents in Nashville and Memphis are asking a state court to end the state’s new voucher program in its infancy. The program began this year after a court lifted an injunction preventing it from going into effect.

A small number of students qualified this year, as the program was greenlighted just weeks before the start of school. The lifting of the injunction did not, however, stop the ongoing lawsuit from parents.

Here’s more from Public Funds for Public Schools:

Today, a panel of judges for the Davidson County Chancery Court heard arguments in two consolidated cases challenging the constitutionality of Tennessee’s private school voucher law, which the state began implementing in August. 

The plaintiffs – Davidson and Shelby County parents and community members – argued that Tennessee’s voucher program illegally diverts taxpayer funds appropriated for public schools in those counties to private schools. They asserted that the program violates the Tennessee Constitution and state law, exacerbates underfunding of public schools, and treats Davidson and Shelby County students and taxpayers differently from their counterparts across the state. 

“My daughter’s public school is wonderful. But it already struggles with funding for textbooks, technology, and enough teachers to keep class sizes down,” said plaintiff Roxanne McEwen, whose child is a student in Metro Nashville Public Schools. “It’s wrong to take money away from our public schools – which serve every child who walks through their doors – when they are already underfunded.” 

Private schools participating in the taxpayer-funded voucher program are not obligated to comply with the academic, accountability, and governance standards that apply to public schools. Unlike public schools, private schools can discriminate against students on the basis of religion, LGBTQ status, and other characteristics, as well as refuse to provide services such as special education for students with disabilities. 
“The state and the other defendants want the court to throw out this case before the plaintiffs have even had a chance to fully air their claims,” said Chris Wood, partner at Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd. “Our clients have asserted multiple violations of the constitution and state law that the court has not yet heard or decided.” 

Public school parents and community members in Shelby and Davidson Counties filed McEwen v. Lee in 2020. They are represented by the ACLU of Tennessee, Education Law Center, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd LLP. The McEwen case has been consolidated with Metro Government v. Tennessee Department of Education, another case challenging the voucher law.  

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$4000 Less

That’s the impact of inflation on starting teacher pay in Metro Nashville.

Teachers in Nashville have seen significant pay bumps in recent years, but as inflation takes a toll, those increases effectively mean a starting teacher today makes less than a starting teacher did back in 2015.

Adam Mintzer at WKRN has more:

According to data from the National Council on Teacher Quality, a new teacher with a bachelor’s degree made $42,082 during the 2015-2016 school year.

This year, a new teacher will make $48,121.

But when you take into account inflation and run the 2015 and 2022 salaries through the Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Price Index Inflation Calculator, $42,082 has the same buying power as $52,242 now.

Therefore, a new teacher is making $4,121 less now compared to what they would’ve made in 2015.

That’s a number that hits particularly hard in one of the nation’s fastest-growing cities – where housing costs have been steadily on the rise.

As Mintzer notes:

There are more than 120 teacher positions still open as of a couple of weeks ago in Metro Nashville Public Schools, according to a spokesperson for the district.

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Hillsdale Circus Comes to Rutherford County

Controversial Michigan-based charter school operator Hillsdale College brought its roadshow to Rutherford County this week and parents and public school advocates spoke out against the school locating in their community.

Nashville’s NewsChannel5 reported on the events surrounding a hearing conducted by the Tennessee State Charter School Commission. While the Rutherford County School Board rejected Hillsdale-affiliated American Classical Academy’s charter application, the school has appealed to the unelected state board to override the local decision. All members of the Commission were appointed by current governor and charter school supporter Bill Lee.

The Hillsdale-affiliated American Classical Academy is asking the commission to overturn the decision by the Rutherford County school board to deny their application for taxpayer funding for their privately operated charter school.

Rutherford County officials argue that the Hillsdale schools do not have a good track record when it comes to students with disabilities, those who are economically disadvantaged and the lowest performing children.

Here’s what Rutherford County Schools had to say about the Hillsdale application:

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