Sometimes Led to Declines

School vouchers don’t help kids but Gov. Lee wants them anyway

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee has long been a staunch supporter of using public money to support private schools.

It seems this legislative session, he may be on the verge of achieving his ultimate goal: privatizing public education in the Volunteer State by way of a school voucher scheme.

Chalkbeat has a timeline of the march toward vouchers, and the details are quite interesting.

Here’s the key takeaway:

Also, the research hasn’t supported the case for vouchers as a way to improve academic outcomes. Recent studies find little evidence that vouchers improve test scores. In fact, they’ve sometimes led to declines.

Even now, big questions loom about the cost, impact, and legal merits of a program that threatens to destabilize Tennessee’s public education system.

A program that’s very expensive, doesn’t improve academic outcomes, and has “sometimes led to declines” is Gov. Bill Lee’s signature policy initiative.

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United in Opposition to Vouchers

Williamson County Democratic school board candidates oppose school voucher scheme

All four Democratic candidates for Williamson County School Board oppose expansion of the state’s school voucher scheme.

The move to expand vouchers is being pushed by Williamson County’s State Senator, Jack Johnson, and Gov. Bill Lee, a Williamson County native.

In a joint statement announcing their opposition, the candidates said:

We are united in opposing vouchers because we’re listening to our neighbors, members of our communities and parents of students in Williamson County who are overwhelmingly against using taxpayer dollars to fund private schools. 

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Speaking Out for Truth

Advocacy group raises alarm about “divisive concepts” legislation

An advocacy group focused on clear and accurate education around topics of race, gender, and sexuality is speaking out against a further update to Tennessee’s “divisive concepts” law that would punish public universities in the state for teaching the truth.

The group notes that the latest round of legislation restricting concepts that can be taught at the state’s public higher education institutions carries potential financial penalties for “failing to prevent” the teaching of divisive concepts.

“Suppressing our ability to discuss and understand the role of racism in this country’s history is to conceal racism and defend this country’s history of white supremacy.”

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Why Does School Lunch Debt Exist?

Tennessee policymakers reject efforts focused on free meals for all kids in school

Arby’s is stepping up where Tennessee lawmakers failed. The roast beef sandwich chain is providing a grant to erase school lunch debt in one Tennessee county.

Meanwhile, legislators consistently reject efforts to provide free meals to all kids at school.

Salon reports on the effort by Arby’s to erase student lunch debt:

Hawkins County Schools in Tennessee received a $16,892 grant from the Arby’s Foundation to assist with student lunch debt. The foundation, which centers on combating childhood hunger, has committed $500,000 to support approximately 200 communities in which Arby’s has a restaurant.  

Salon notes that Tennessee students carry a staggering amount of school lunch debt:

The issue of outstanding student lunch debt isn’t unique to Hawkins County; according to 2024 statistics from the Education Data Center, on a state-level, Tennessee has $51,610,062 in student lunch debt and about 285,770 food insecure students.

This despite repeated efforts by both Democratic and Republican lawmakers to pass legislation that would provide some measure of free school meals to all kids.

One analysis notes that the cost to provide free school meals (breakfast and lunch) to all kids in Tennessee would be $714 million.

In a state with typical annual budget surpluses in range of $2 billion, this seems like an easy task.

Instead, the General Assembly this year is focusing on passing a corporate tax break estimated to cost $1.6 billion.

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Biden Budget a Boon for Schools

Education advocates praise President’s investments in public school programs

The Network for Public Education (NPE) is praising President Biden’s proposed budget as a win for public schools.

NPE’s executive director, Carol Burris, said of the budget, “This budget is the mirror opposite of budget proposals by the present House leadership that slash funding to children served by critical programs like Title I while proposing an increase to the already bloated Federal Charter School Programs (CSP).”

The group noted the proposal includes $450 million of new money for key programs benefiting kids in schools across the country.

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A Rally for Public Education

Coalition of groups asks lawmakers to reject Lee’s voucher scam

As Gov. Bill Lee’s proposal to expand the state’s failing voucher program to all 95 counties moves forward in legislative committees, a group of public education advocates is speaking out against the bill.

Nashville’s WSMV:

Teachers from across Tennessee will flock to the Tennessee State Capitol on Tuesday for a rally against Gov. Bill Lee’s school voucher expansion plans.

The teachers will arrive at the Capitol at 9 a.m. for a day of action before the rally begins at 1 p.m.

They said the voucher plan is a scam and it will further defund Tennessee’s public schools, which are already ranked sixth to last in education investment.

The teachers will be joined by parents and others advocating for full funding of the state’s public schools. The group is coming together under the banner of Tennessee For All.

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A Policy Failure

State Board of Education moves to address failed third grade retention policy

One year into Tennessee’s third-grade retention policy and the predictably disastrous results are becoming apparent.

It seems the State Board of Education is aware of the failures of the policy and members are making some attempts to improve it or at least lessen the negative impacts.

“Failing a fourth-grader is not the answer,” said former fourth-grade teacher and current state Board of Education representative Krissi McInturff during the February meeting. While McInturff — who represents Tennessee’s 1st Congressional District on the board — voiced support for the intention of the law, she also listed negative effects associated with retaining students, including academic struggles, stress, increased dropout rates among students who have been retained and emotional impact. 

Lawmakers are also considering tweaks to the law following the first year of implementation.

Other states that have implemented similar laws have run into problems. Michigan ultimately repealed the retention element of the law and instead focused attention on providing support for reading in grades K-3.

Book Ban Backers Banished

Sumner County voters reject slate of school board candidates focused on banning books, firing director of schools

In the Republican primary last night, voters in Sumner County soundly rejected a slate of candidates focused on banning books in school libraries.

The Sumner County Constitutional Republicans (SCCR) fielded a slate of candidates in the GOP primary for School Board. All SCCR-backed candidates lost their races in a clean sweep for candidates supportive of investment in public schools.

The Tennessee Holler notes the defeat of the SCCR candidates

Among the group of SCCR candidates, there had been discussion of removing books from school libraries and mention of an effort to fire Director of Schools Scott Langford if the group gained a majority.

Instead, in a voter turnout that exceeded the county’s typical average turnout, Sumner Countians rejected SCCR in every district.

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Phil’s Got the Tapes

Pro-voucher group exposed

NewsChannel5’s Phil Williams has a recording of a prominent school voucher lobbyist calling for political punishment for Republican lawmakers who refuse to support Gov. Bill Lee’s voucher scheme.

“I don’t think anybody is going to get unseated without some substantial independent expenditures coming in there,” Gill says, acknowledging that wealthy special interests would need to spend a lot of money to knock off lawmakers who did not vote their way.

The point seems to be that privatizers (like Gill, affiliated with the Tennessee Federation for Children), are willing to spend what it takes to secure pro-voucher votes from lawmakers.

This is a familiar tactic. Tennesseans for Student Success employed similar methods when some GOP lawmakers refused to support a different privatization scheme.

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