“I was naive and thought we could express our feelings to each other- not suppress them and keep holding them back. Well, it was what I felt, and why should I be untrue to myself? I came to believe the importance that if you feel something strong enough then you should say it.”
On Monday, I listened to Tennessee’s Governor Bill Lee give his State Of The State Speech. Then the next day I read the transcript because surely I didn’t hear what I thought I did. Surely I had missed the context of his words. But alas, I actually did and I did not.
With your indulgence, I’d like to share a recap along with a few excerpts. I invite you to join me on a trip to a parallel universe.
The speech starts off benign enough, with a general thank you to the expected. One line though, and its choice of words, set the tone for more to come. In thanking his advisors he refers to them thus,
They are battle-tested and I am proud of their work and their friendship.
Battle-tested? In a state that is a Republican super-majority, what battles of merit have they fought? And will medals be forthcoming?
Lee does precede to list of challenges faced and how Tennesseans have weathered these unprecedented times. I’d argue that when it comes to floods, tornados, and bombs, the majority of the heavy lifting has been done at the local level, but, as he’s gearing up for a re-election campaign, I’ll give him the victory lap. He also notes that this year marks the 225th of Tennessee statehood. A moment worth celebrating. Though…throughout the rest of the speech, it sounds like secession isn’t far from his mind. But we’ll get to that.
The Governor spends the next several minutes touting his response to the pandemic. He thinks it’s been exemplary, others disagree. Myself? I think we are still in the third quarter and as such we ought to be slow to call the victory. Here’s where we get to the next questionable comment,
I’m proud of our schools, and our collective decision to follow the science when it comes to getting our kids back in the classroom.
As of today, 146 of our 147 districts have an in-person option for students – and that choice is so critical for our kids.
Um…does Lee even read his own state government COVID tracker? Per that site, there is not one, but rather 8 counties that remain remote,
- Richard City
- TN School of the Blind
So either he needs to update his website, or once again he’s making up “facts” to support a desired narrative. A look at the TDOE website re-enforces that the pandemic is still raging, reporting 931 new cases of students with COVID and 236 teachers. A minimal drop from last week.
This is the second time in the speech that Lee has mentioned the importance of being “in-person”. Perhaps before he starts working on individual LEA’s staff he should get his own staff to show up for work in Tennessee. After being hired nearly a year ago, the TDOE’s Senior Director of Accountability Sophie Maya M is still comfortably living in Illinois and working from home with no apparent intent to move to Tennessee. . But why quibble?
Lee, like his Commissioner of Education, likes to make statements that assume nobody has access to Google,
We have consistently been in the top ten for vaccine distribution nationally and we expect that to continue in the weeks and months ahead.
I’m not sure what metric he’s using, but a simple Google search shows that when it comes to ranking states by the percentage of vaccines administered, we are not exactly in the top 10…or the top 20…in fact, we are at number 34.
Doses distributed to state: 1,156,975
Doses administered: 805,720
Percentage of distributed vaccines that have been administered: 69.64
So let’s see, if I’m not mistaken, a 69 translates to a “D”. But why quibble?
Lee’s continues with the praise,
Good news doesn’t always get noticed, but our vaccine distribution plan is recognized by the Former CDC Director Redfield the most medically sound and practical plan in the country.
To be honest, I’m not sure I would be sharing praise by Redfield, under his guidance the CDC was not a shining star and he’s had his own questionable moments, especially concerning HIV research. That said, a lengthy Google search failed to locate transcripts that showed Redfield’s praise. Maybe it was in a phone call. But why quibble?
Lee goes on to praise the state’s economic recovery before delivering another quote, that I have trouble substantiating,
A recent report shows Tennessee is one of only seven states to have positive economic growth since April 2020 when much of our economy was shut down. One of seven.
That’s not exactly what the Boyd Center at UT said in its recently delivered report,
The state’s inflation-adjusted gross domestic product is expected to mirror that of the nation and fall by 3.5 percent in 2020. In Tennessee, GDP is expected to increase by 2.9 percent in 2021 and 3.6 percent in 2022, returning to prepandemic levels by the end of 2022.
The unemployment rate in Tennessee swung from a record low of 3.3 percent in March 2020 to a record high of 15.5 percent in April 2020, but the state has rebounded relatively quickly and is projected to end the year with a 7.5 percent average. The unemployment rate will continue to decrease in the years to come, falling to 5.2 percent in 2021 and 4.4 percent in 2022.
Hmmm…the economy is definitely trending in the right direction, but those numbers don’t support the robust picture being painted by Governor Lee.
The Governor goes on to brag about his management of the unemployment Trust Fund,
Let me put this in practical terms: prudent management of the Unemployment Trust Fund staved off a projected 300% tax increase on Tennessee employers for unemployment insurance.
Great news, unless you were somebody actually trying to collect unemployment in the last year. Just another case where Mr. Lee is more focused on banking the money than he is on getting it to the people that need it.
In fairness, there were 9 states whose tax revenues in 2020 were greater than in 2019 – Tennessee’s was 2.3% higher. But here’s our friend irony visiting once again. According to Center Square,
The Paycheck Protection Program, as well as $535 billion in federal aid to state and local governments, helped to maintain employment levels and income tax revenues during the pandemic, the Tax Foundation study concluded.
There is always something behind the curtain with this administration. Next, the Governor started rolling out his planned initiatives,
We met here two weeks ago for a historic special session. It was bold. And it will change the lives of our children.
I won’t reiterate our accomplishments there but will add that the work continues for teacher pay raises.
During the special session we allocated almost $43 million dollars for teacher pay raises.
This was a step in the right direction, and the budget I’m submitting for your consideration this week recommends an additional $120 million dollars be set aside for teacher compensation in the 21-22 budget.
He may not want to reiterate, but I can do it in two words, summer camps, and tutoring. Ok, it’s three. That’s the bold initiatives produced by a week-long historical special session, summer camps, and tutoring. That and a literacy plan recycled from the past. Let me say it again, the special session held in response to the effects of an unprecedented health crisis produced exactly zero new ideas. I guess that is the very definition of bold.
About those teacher raises, $43 million and $120 million sound like big numbers until you realize that it’ll likely take 10 times that to substantially make a difference. As it is…a teacher making 50K a year might see an additional $90 in their paycheck provided they don’t work in an urban district and benefit costs don’t increase. But why quibble?
Here comes my favorite part,
I mentioned partisanship earlier and I want to address the recent election.
There was no greater stage for partisan politics than the final months of 2020 with partisan divides impacting almost every aspect of American life.
I have great concerns about our country’s faith in the integrity of our election process.
Thankfully, our state has stayed well above that controversy.
If every state ran their election process like Tennessee, we’d have no delays and no scandal.
I credit you, Secretary Hargett, for your leadership to ensure Tennessee elections have integrity and that we do our part to protect the democratic process.
With elections behind us, we will watch with patriotic skepticism to see if politicians in Washington try to force more government on the states than the Tenth Amendment allows.
Non-partisan? Does he not know where Representative Gloria Johnson’s office is located? States should emulate the integrity of Tennessee’s election process? Is that before or after the Equity Alliance files suit? That last line, about “patriotic skepticism” is a little troubling. what are we going to do in response to a supposed overreach? And who are we being patriotic towards, Tennessee or the United States of America? Lee seems to be making a Tennessee first argument, which is a little strange considering that Tennessee is among the top 10 states dependent on federal funds. But why quibble?
Lee proceeds to list several initiatives as they relate to making the state of Tennessee the number one state in foster care and adoption…I know. But for the sake of brevity, I’m going to keep going. He then gets into his bills to fight crime and drops this one,
We know that law enforcement is a calling, and the men and women who take an oath to serve and protect deserve the best and most comprehensive training to benefit themselves and the communities they interact with.
Yes, we do recognize that, as it is for most of our serviced-based professions – teachers, nurses, clergy, firemen – law enforcement is a calling. That same recognition across the board might be helpful.
And time for another nugget,
I think we can all agree that our law enforcement officials in our state have done an incredible job in protecting and serving the people of Tennessee.
Now, more than ever, Tennesseans want a strong commitment to the Second Amendment and the right to protect themselves.
And as such, I will be reintroducing Constitutional Carry legislation this year.
Huh? If they are doing so a great job, why do I need to carry? Why now more than ever? Why in the same speech that you warn the federal government that you’ll be watching them, do you tout the need for an armed populace? It’s a call that ignores the fact that gun violence is up across the country. Is it really the time to be kicking up the number of people packing?
In Tennessee, there has already been a process in place for getting a gun permit. I would argue that everybody who wants to carry, and meets the criteria, is already licensed. So who is this legislation aimed at? I would further argue that the only people who would take advantage of this new law are those that have been rightly denied in the past. Is that what we really need right now in the midst of a pandemic that is taking an immeasurable toll on our collective mental health? Doesn’t feel very smart.
Or perhaps, Governor Lee has something more nefarious in mind. Perhaps he’s making sure that Tennesseans are prepared in case the federal government exerts itself in a manner that he and his battle-tested unified command don’t approve of. I would say, based on his own words…Lucy, you have some explaining to do.
So I have repeatedly asked, why quibble? For that explanation, I turn again to the words of Governor Lee.
This has been a very long and challenging year for our nation and our state.
There has been a tragic loss of life, loss of incomes, loss of learning for our kids.
In many respects, one of our most difficult years in recent history.
But I’ve learned over my 61 years of life that God is a Redeemer.
He takes what is tragic and makes it transformational.
There are things that we never would have known, insights we never would have been awakened to.
Through times of trial we become more purposeful and more resolute.
We see things more clearly, we act with more intention and we have a greater opportunity more than ever to seize the moment and shape the future.
In two years, Governor Lee is up for re-election and voters will have a chance to decide if he’s been accurate, honest, and transparent. They will have an opportunity to decide if he truly has the interests of all Tennesseans at heart or just those that stand to directly benefit from his policies.
I would argue that throughout his brief tenure as Governor, Mr. Lee has given us a clear picture of who he is. The question that remains is, will we believe him?
That’s why I quibble.
Yesterday, House Education Subcommittees conducted their initial meetings. The first – Education Instruction Subcommittee – met at 3pm. It took up HB0005 which seeks to amend TCA Title 49. As introduced, requires that the instruction provided to a student who is identified for intervention through the response to instruction and intervention (RTI²) framework be determined by the student’s local education agency based on the individual student’s needs. As of yet, I haven’t formed an opinion on this legislation though it does seem to run counter to the spirit of what was passed during the special session.
My only caveat is that if you are going to pass legislation related to a specific action, you fully understand that process. At one point in yesterday’s meeting, Representative Dixie from Nashville asked if RTI and an IEP was the same thing. After considerable fumbling around by both the sponsor and the chair, a response was given that delineated the two, but just touched the edges of accuracy.
For the record, an IEP is an Individual Education Plan and is regulated by the federal government. It is a lengthy process that relies on several measurements and a conference between the school, a child, and teachers. Failure to adhere to an IEP can lead to lawsuits.
RTI, Response to Intervention, is a state program that uses a universal screener to prescribe individual supports to students. In Tennessee, it’s a tiered system with those not needing intervention receiving enrichment. It’s also repeatedly been underfunded. Per a Tennessee teacher in Chalkbeat,
One thing I know from my teaching experience is that Tennessee schools already have a tool at their disposal: a program called Response to Intervention and Instruction. The program is state-mandated, so every school uses it. But it’s also severely underfunded relative to the enormous need. So despite teaching in a variety of schools and neighborhoods, I have never once seen a successful, thriving RTI² program.
Probably ought not to confuse the two.
Later in the day the K-12 subcommittee met and to call it a trainwreck, would be a disservice to trainwrecks. Up for consideration was HB0003 which proposes to amend TCA Title 49. Which as introduced, requires that a student’s gender for purposes of participation in a public middle school or high school interscholastic athletic activity or event be determined by the student’s sex at the time of the student’s birth, as indicated on the student’s original birth certificate.
The discussion began with a respectful well-researched plea from the mother of a transgender child, Aly Chapman,
“Legislating the segregation of our diverse students’ sports participation by their sex assigned at birth could be a harmful precedent for all minority children,” said Chapman, who is also part of the Tennessee chapter of GLSEN. “Not only does this discriminatory bill undermines their ability to safely belong to their community, it essentially excludes them from school and sports participation.”
Things went south from there as Representative took it upon himself to try and browbeat Chapman into submission by demanding she named specifics in the bill she disagreed with. For her part, Ms. Chapman gamely tried to meet Ragan’s demand until it was clear that his sole intent was to intimidate. At that point, she conceded that she didn’t know how he expected her to answer and she plaintively asked him, “What are you looking for from me?” For anybody with a soul, it was painful to watch the exchange unfold.
After the witness’s appearance, a conversation between the bill’s sponsor, Representative Cepicky, and Representative Clemmons ensued. With Clemmons raising several legitimate questions around the science of sexual orientation. Questions that led Representative Casada to leap to the defense of Tennessee women. Trust me the irony wasn’t lost on me. It was Casada after all, who once responded thusly when asked how he would deal with being raped if he was a woman,
“If it’s important, and it is — it’d be important to me if I was raped, I would move,” Casada said. “And hell would have no fury.”
Cepicky staked out a position that the sole intent of his bill was to create fairness for Tennessee’s female athletes. While Clemmons tried to discern whether it was in the purview of the General Assembly to ensure fairness in middle school and high school sports. I tend to side with Clemmons on this argument, as there is already a governing body in place to ensure such when it comes to school sports – TSSAA.
Things went even further off the rails when Representative Clemmons made a point around Cepicky looking in the mirror and saw Rep Carringer in the mirror. This lead to a lengthy diatribe by the freshman representative from Knoxville that I’m still trying to fully decipher. That concluded with her saying,
“We do not operate like California and New York … and there’s a reason why we all want to live here, in this great state of Tennessee,” Carringer said. “We don’t need any more stuff confusing our children.”
Truly cringeworthy. Without getting into the fairness issue, I’ve got to ask, what’s the impetus for this?
In my life, I have known approximately 4 people who were transgender. That’s 4 in nearly 56 years on this earth. Have I missed something and is there suddenly a cadre of transgender kids playing woman’s sports? Are dozens of Tennessee’s female athletes being denied access to scholarships because they are being snapped up by transgender athletes? Are they being sent to the emergency room in droves because of the influx of transgender kids playing field hockey? Or are boys suddenly taking those scholarships and winning championships because they find it’s easier to compete against girls? I need some data and yesterday’s conversation supplied none.
If these two sub-committee meetings are examples of what we have to look forward to this legislative session, then we are all in trouble. I encourage you to watch the video of the latter. Extremely disappointing.
Yesterday an odd administrative bill was filed in the state senate – SB0769. Administrative bills come directly from the Governor and the Commissioner. The purpose of this bill is to prohibit the state textbook and instructional materials quality commission, the state board of education, and public schools of this state from recommending, approving, or using textbooks and instructional materials and supplemental instructional materials created to align with the common core state standards. Huh? This makes no sense as Schwinn and company have been playing with the common core folks for well over a year. Hell, they even mention CC architects the Libens in their federal Literacy grant.
Here’s the thing though. MNPS and Memphis are using the Florida Virtual School curriculum in response to the circumstances created by the pandemic. FVS is rooted in Common Core Standards. Nashville has a $5 million/5 year contract with FVS. A curriculum that is supposed to continue even after kids return to in-person instruction. A curriculum that is still pending approval from the state board of education. The House companion bill is carried by Representative Lamberth and we here in Nashville are very familiar with his agenda.
This proposed legislation dovetails nicely into another story that is making the rounds. On Monday, MNPS’s director of schools Dr. Battle held a 3pm press conference to announce that Nashville’s teachers would begin receiving the COVID-19 vaccine on February 13th. That date was walked back and later corrected to February 20th.
At the time, I took holding a press conference at 3:30 pm on the day of the Governor’s State of The State as being a little bit of political gamesmanship. Apparently, I was not the only one to interpret it as such. If credible voices on the state are to be believed, the week-long delay was orchestrated behind the scenes by the Governor’s office. Normally I would be inclined to extend Lee the benefit of the doubt, but after the last two years, I feel little compulsion to do so. If true, it only confirms what many of us already feel, we are all but political pawns in a game of chess among the privileged.
I tend to buy into the theory that Governor Lee is working as hard as possible to discredit Memphis and Nashville in an effort to drum up support for his proposed voucher legislation should the state supreme court reverse a lower level court decision. In line with this reasoning, is today’s appeal by the Beacon Group to allow the state to begin taking applications. Several voucher bills were filed today.
HB0753 – As introduced, expands the Individualized Education Act to allow a child with dyslexia to be eligible for the individualized education account program. – Amends TCA Title 49. Is introduced by Representative Mark White
HB0837 – As introduced, enacts the “Opportunity Scholarships Program,” which creates a scholarship program for students who reside in certain LEAs with a minimum average growth of 2 percent in average daily membership over the previous five fiscal years to attend certain eligible private schools. This one is introduced by representative Sparks.
And the hamster wheel spins.
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