A good legislative session

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kevin-huffmanThe Tennessee legislative session ended on the morning on April 17th and that afternoon Tennessee Ed commissioner Kevin Huffman tweeted the following out,

1st thought on end of leg session: Free community college for all TN grads is a game changer for kids & the state.

That’s it. In a session where he was backing bills linked to for profit charters, vouchers, expanding the eligibility for the Achievement School District, a parent trigger, not to mention bills he was opposed to that limited testing, slowed the implementation of Common Core, unlinked TVASS from teacher licensure, and the only comment he could make was “Yay! Community college for all TN grads.”. I don’t want to downplay the benefits of that bill but not having anything else to tout speaks volumes.

It didn’t hurt that the bills he was supporting were bad bills. Take a look at the voucher bill. This is the second year in a row that it was considered a done deal yet once again it failed to pass. Some supporters of this bill tried to rally support for it by saying how much Memphis needed it. Problem was Memphis already has the Achievement School district and both were focused on students enrolled in schools in the lower 5%.

This is how I figure it would’ve worked. If you attend a school ranked in the lower 5% achievement wise, you get a voucher to go anywhere. However those schools are already being addressed by the ASD, so what’s the ASD to do when a segment of its population heads off to another school with voucher in hand? That’s where the bill allowing the ASD to accept students from schools not zoned for the ASD, as long as the ASD had empty seats, comes in. Are you catching on here?

Fortunately Tennessee legislators did. Both of those bills died on the vine. Now keep in mind the ASD’s favorite method of improving those schools in the bottom 5% and moving them to the top 25% is through authorizing more Charter schools. So what’s to happen when these families with their brand new vouchers still can’t get into the private school they thought they were going to go to? Well there was a bill for that too.

A bill that would’ve allowed for-profit charters to come on in and set up shop. After all we can’t leave our children trapped in failing schools. We need more high quality schools and if its the lure of a profit that gets them here, so be it. It makes sense doesn’t it? Fortunately it didn’t to Tennessee legislators either. It failed. They did drag a state charter authorizer across the finish line but we’ll see how that actually gets used.

Legislators did see a need to have a testing law that demanded that school districts provide a list of tests to parents, at the beginning of the school year, that their children will be taking and who is mandating them. Thank you Rep Butts for this fine work. They also decided to make sure TVASS is never linked to teacher licensure and to slow down Common Core and PARCC for one year. Neither idea was supported by our education commissioner, but hey, this wasn’t his session.untitled

Now you may be asking yourself, how exactly did all this come to pass? Tennessee has a super majority for Republicans. Passing these reforms should have been a piece of cake. Two things prevented this session from turning out different, the strong dislike for our education commissioner  and the rising activism of Tennessee parents.

Tip O’Neil once said, “All politics is local” and the truth is the locals don’t care much for Mr Huffman. In his brief tenure as education commissioner he has shown the heavy hammer of authority coupled with the inability to listen, not a winning combination. That recipe may have worked for his first couple of years but now there are signs of it starting to wear thin.

Tennesseans tends to not like a bully. They tend to also like their teachers. The last couple of years Mr Huffman has made numerous policy changes that have created the perception of scapegoating teachers. The use of value added metrics linked to teachers licenses and even pay scale was the straw that broke the camel’s back. When concerned citizens tried to express qualms about his policies he proved to not be very receptive. So they did the expected and started bending the ears of their legislators.

When legislators tried bending the ear of the Commissioner they got the same results as parents had. The difference is, they can do something about it and they did. This session of the Tennessee Legislation can easily be seen as a vote of no confidence for Mr. Huffman. Many legislators voted not just their conscious but their personal feelings as well. Legislators don’t like getting their ears bent and they like being ignored even less.

Its my personal opinion, that it won’t be long until it sinks in that Kevin Huffman is a political liability and he finds a nice cushy consultant job somewhere else. Of course there will be glowing praise and thank you’s to guide him off to his new position but in the immortal words of Sam Cooke, I believe a change is going to come. That change won’t come a moment too soon and there will be rejoicing among the faux parents.

Which brings us to the second reason why this session turned out the way it did. Parents and citizens got into the fray and they did it relentlessly. This session was a lesson in democracy. As Momma Bears, BATS and TREE’s all wrote letters, called legislators, held rallies and generally let their voices be heard. Kevin Huffman might have thought these were faux parents but nothing could have been further from the truth. These were true grass root organizations whose coffers were empty but hearts were full. It was inspiring to witness.

Things turned out all right this year. Next year they might not. That’s why its so important for individuals to keep working to make sure your voice is heard. Reformers like Mr Huffman, along with Chris Barbic and Andy Smarick have made it clear they don’t believe democracy has any place in education. They work to strip school boards of power, limit the voice of school districts and even drown out the individual voices of parents. We can’t let that happen.

Parents, I’m not asking you to come to the same conclusions as I have. I am asking you to educate yourself about what’s going on in our schools and what reform ideas really mean. Many reform ideas sound great and logical until you look beneath the surface and realize the sacrifices they are asking for. Public education is one of our strongest public institutions. Our forbearers believed that public education led to better citizens which led to a better society. We need to never forget that and guard it as if we are guarding our very democracy, because we are.photo (101)

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4 comments on “A good legislative session

  1. Kathy korte says:

    Congratulations. A heck of a win! Kathy Korte- Albuquerque Stand4KidsNM

  2. lsanson says:

    This is great. Awesome!

  3. lsanson says:

    you can see my attempt at blogging- but- I have not the time–as you can see

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