School Funding, Vouchers And The ASD

Thursday, January 13, 2022

It is back to work for state legislators. The first week of the legislature has been very busy. While criticizing politicians is a national activity and a form of amusement for many, the truth is that most of these folks are good people, working hard, and trying to do the right thing for our state. It is always the good, bad, and ugly in any political system.

The Tennessee Constitution requires the General Assembly is required to provide for the maintenance, support, and eligibility standards of a system of free public schools. The current formula is subject to ongoing litigation, and the amount the state currently spends on public education is among the bottom in the nation. We are optimistic that we can move forward. On Tuesday, January 11th the Commissioner of Education, Penny Schwinn unveiled a potential new school funding formula she calls the "Funding for Student Success."  

The process has been somewhat rushed, and they should have started much earlier. There are some concerns about use of Gates Foundation money, and involvement of national groups in this process.  Many subcommittees still have not finished their work. But in general, there is a lot to like in this proposal, as it is pretty inclusive of what we are already funding now. However, the devil is always in the details. For example, the draft sent out does not include funding amounts. In fiscal 2021-2022, the state is on track to spend at least $5.6 billion in state dollars on K-12 education, though that figure doesn't include federal and local funding toward K-12 education. A side-by-side comparison would be useful.

The new framework would include money for educator salaries, nurses, counselors, and student supports, intervention resources, and technology — along with varying district-specific needs. Some of those items need to be identified and spelled out. In addition, dollars for specific student subgroups that are sometimes harder or more expensive to educate like students who are living in poverty, English language learners and students with disabilities, or students who qualify for Section 504 dyslexia plans would get more money. Again, a little more clarity will be needed and safeguards in place to make sure those designations are not used to get more funding.

The state also plans to allocate additional funding for tutoring programs, career and technical education programs to districts considered "fast-growing." The tutoring program needs closer examination and more accountability. Likewise, we need to make sure we are indeed tracking career and technical education more carefully. We need to know the number enrolled, how many are passing recognized industry certifications, and then on how many are entering the workforce.

Governor Bill Lee made clear in a December press conference that the funding formula was not about vouchers. "I'm a strong advocate for school choice and continue to be, but this is really not about choice issues for education," according to Lee. On the same day the funding draft was released, Senator Mike Bell and Representative Michael Curcio introduced legislation that would expand the Education Savings Accounts (vouchers). Currently, the law which applies only to Nashville and Memphis was halted by courts. It is scheduled to be heard by the Tennessee Supreme Court in February.

Memphis and Nashville are the systems that stayed pretty much remote last year. Subsequently, both school systems saw a significant regression in state test scores last year. The Bell/Curcio bill would expand the law to make vouchers available to students in any Tennessee district that mandates masks or does not offer at least 180 days of in-person learning due to the coronavirus pandemic. This bill would also make the voucher program applicable statewide.

Currently, the voucher law enacted by the state in 2019 has been declared unconstitutional. There are likely not enough affordable private schools in Memphis and Nashville to meet the demand should parents take a voucher. The state has very little oversight on private schools and there are no requirements on private schools which would prohibit them from mandating masks. However, a shared consensus is emerging: remote learning did not work academically and mentally for most children. On that, we can all agree.

The Achievement School District (ASD), the state’s turnaround program for low-performing schools, was created in 2010 as part of Tennessee’s Race to the Top plan. Currently, Memphis and Nashville are the only cities that have schools in the ASD. The bill says vouchers also would be extended to students zoned to attend an ASD school. Both sides of the political aisle know ASD is a failed concept.

Speaker Cameron Sexton and many conservative lawmakers have discussed it as a failure. State Representative Antonio Parkinson has pointed out its failures for years. In regards to the ASD model, conservatives bemoaned the loss of local control when it was first proposed. For others, it was the lack of resources and not understanding the underpinnings of poverty that concerned policymakers. Both are still accurate today.

Tennessee has spent nearly $1 billion on the underperforming schools’ program. Data shows ASD is not working and has been less effective than district-run schools. Lack of certified teachers and continual teacher turnover are constant issues. Student absentee rate is also higher, and the program has not worked as intended for student achievement. There is no data to support that the program is, or was, or will help all students.

The Tennessee General Assembly works best when they hear from Tennesseans on issues that matter most to them. We believe issue advocacy is good, and it is a First Amendment right to express an opinion to policymakers. In education, they need to hear from parents and educators regularly.  You can visit the state website at www.tn.gov to contact your legislators. 

JC Bowman
Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee


Faye Robinson Thanks The Voters

Joe Biden Or Joe Stalin? - And Response (6)

Failed Federal Cap On Insulin Co-Pays Is Only Part Of Problem


I want to thank the voters for electing me to be the first Hamilton County School Board member for the newly created District 10. Thank you to my family, friends, neighbors and my campaign team. ... (click for more)

August 8, 2022, the United States became a Third World country thanks to AG Merrick Garland and FBI Director Chris Wray, sinister henchmen of Joe Biden. From reports, FBI agents executed an unprecedented ... (click for more)

It is sad that there is no federal legislative consensus in the current healthcare reform bill. The attempted bi-partisan effort to place a $35 co-pay cap on insulin failed last week. It is ... (click for more)



Opinion

Faye Robinson Thanks The Voters

I want to thank the voters for electing me to be the first Hamilton County School Board member for the newly created District 10. Thank you to my family, friends, neighbors and my campaign team. For the last six months, I have been on a listening tour. I asked a lot of questions. I wanted to see and hear from students, teachers, parents, support staff, administration and taxpayers, ... (click for more)

Joe Biden Or Joe Stalin? - And Response (6)

August 8, 2022, the United States became a Third World country thanks to AG Merrick Garland and FBI Director Chris Wray, sinister henchmen of Joe Biden. From reports, FBI agents executed an unprecedented raid on a former president’s private residence seizing what they claim to be documents that were not returned to the National Archives. Now the TDS mob, in panic mode from fear ... (click for more)

Breaking News

City Council Gives Final Approval For Stadium Deal; Council Adds Provisions For "Transparency" On $80 Million Project

The City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved the $80 million Southside Stadium project. The action puts in motion the ability for a new city/county Sports Authority to convene and issue $80 million in bonds for the "community" facility on nine acres at the U.S. Pipe/Wheland Foundry site. Councilman Chip Henderson added several provisions that he said would add "transparency" ... (click for more)

CHA Planning 1,783 Housing Units At Re-Envisioned Westside

Officials of the Chattanooga Housing Authority said the plan to re-envision the Westside includes building 1,783 new housing units. Betsy McCright, CHA executive director, said the College Hill Courts and the Gateway Tower will be taken down, but she said residents in those 629 have been promised a spot in some of the new housing. She said the demolition will be in stages ... (click for more)

Sports

Up-Tempo Pace In Full Force During Vols' First Preseason Scrimmage

Tennessee football completed its first scrimmage of preseason camp on Tuesday morning in Neyland Stadium as the Volunteers worked multiple situations in nearly 100 plays. An up-tempo offense was in full effect during the live, full-padded scrimmage that saw sixth-year senior quarterback Hendon Hooker toss multiple touchdowns, including one to tight end Jacob Warren . "We ... (click for more)

Garner Emphasizing Veteran Leadership One Week Into Preseason Camp

One week into preseason practice and one day out from its first scrimmage of fall camp, the Tennessee football team took Haslam Field Monday morning as anticipation continues to build for the 2022 season opener on Sept. 1. Entering his second year on Josh Heupel 's staff and fourth overall at Tennessee, defensive line coach Rodney Garner met with members of the media to discuss ... (click for more)