AT FIRST BLUSH…

“My friends are gone and my hair is grey.
I ache in places I used to play.
And I’m crazy for love but I’m not coming on.
I’m just paying my rent every day in the tower of song.”
Leonard Cohen, Dance Me to the End of Love

 

Well, this day is starting out like a Monday. 600 words into my thoughts about the alignment between parenthood and schools, I realize that I am looking at a jumbled mess that has way too many threads and is going to take way too many words to whip into shape.

Apropo, on some levels, but basically, a dumpster fire in need of extinguishing. So in a moment of rigorous honesty, I pulled the plug…and started over. It remains to be seen if this version is an improvement, but here we go.

GOVERNOR LEE’S CONCERNING ANNOUNCEMENT

The Basic Education Program (BEP) is the funding formula through which state education dollars are generated and distributed to Tennessee schools. Almost every sane person in Tennessee recognizes that the state’s BEP formula is in need of overall. The differences come in how to address those needed changes.

As a result, there have been countless conversations and studies into how to reform the formula. I think it’s pretty safe to say, that at this point, we know the issues and challenges around the BEP, it is the solutions that remain elusive..

Part of the issues stem from the funding levels, and part of it is rooted in state mandates that don’t take into account the actuality of what schools face.

The good news is that there is only room to improve. We are not talking about a state that is in the top 10 of the nation when it comes to allocating resources. There is some debate about where Tennessee actually falls, based on different measurements, but no matter how you slice it…Tennessee is in the bottom third of the country.

Not an envious place to be, especially when funding and student outcomes have proven to be aligned.

On Friday, Governor Lee announced his intention to follow in the footsteps of his predecessor Governor Haslam by creating a new committee for a “robust review” of Tennessee’s nearly 30-year-old formula for funding public education.

If you’ll remember, and if you don’t, Chalkbeat offers a refresher, in 2014, Haslam put together his own task force to try to overhaul the funding system but ultimately retreated.

“We came in and looked at turning it inside out in every way possible,” he told Chalkbeat in a 2018 interview. “But it was very difficult because, when you change it, you’re going to have winners and losers. You just are. And so the only way to change it is to do it like we did — in times when you [can] add more money to the pie.”

Now Lee is inserting himself into the breach albeit in his typical eyebrow-raising fashion.

First of all, he seems to be advocating for a move towards a student-based funding formula, one that allows funding to follow a student, based on their individual needs, to their school.  It’s a model that has been touted for at least a decade by the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council.

Per Chalkbeat,

During a news conference, Lee touted student-centered funding because it takes into consideration each student’s needs, circumstances, and learning path — and also yields more accountability.

The accountability thing with Lee is one of those “do as I say, not as I do” tenets that Lee likes to espouse.I can’t think of a single issue from health care to policing to education, where he has held himself accountable for any shortcomings.

What Lee doesn’t come out and say, is the added benefit of the student-based funding model is that it makes it a whole lot easier to establish vouchers and grow the charter school sector. Two altars that Lee has long worshipped at.

Here’s another wrinkle to consider. Lee as Governor has fostered an environment where public monies can easily be shifted to private entities. Be it sock masks, Classwallet, or a  contract with a company that employs the education commissioner’s spouse, friends of Bill Lee go to the front of the line.

The benefitting of students and Tennesseans is always viewed as a byproduct of taking care of the private sector first.

His BEP review announcement is no exception.

As part of his announcement, per Chalkbeat, Governor Lee and his education chief, Penny Schwinn, announced they will seek public input about education funding over the next 90 days and invited Tennesseans to weigh through surveys, committees, and meetings across the state.

Well somebody is going to have to organize all of that community involvement. right?

It’s fortuitous for Tennessee’s Boris and Natasha, that the Education Trust, led by MNPS School Board member Gini Pupo-Walker, has been holding frequent webinars about education funding in the state of Tennessee. I’m sure they would love to serve as an asset to the Governor as the review process moves forward.

Previously insiders questioned the motivation for Ed Trust to undertake this initiative, but apparently, they were quite prescient. And stand to benefit from their foresight.

I’d say, keep your eyes open for an RFP in the near future, but that’s a lengthy process, and time is of the essence here. Rest assured though, that both Education Trust and SCORE will be flexing their collective muscle in an effort to exert influence over the process.

My initial thoughts on this review when first announced was that all of this was for show. If you’ve been around for a while you are acutely aware of the strategy for looking like you’re doing something while actually doing the opposite. Forming a study group, creating a survey, holding town halls, all serve as primary elements for successfully kicking the can down the road.

With the state preparing to defend its resource allocation formula for funding public schools in a 6-year-old legal battle set to go to trial in February, it’s kinda important to give the illusion of activity. But things are seldom as simple as they appear.

We can’t lose sight that the Governor is a staunch supporter of a choice system for schools, as is his Chief of Staff Blake Harris.

Lee’s policy advisor, Tony Niknejad, is the former Tennessee director of the pro-voucher group American Federation for Children. It’s a pretty safe bet in looking at the people surrounding Lee, that any proposed revision comes with an ulterior motive.

Things should get even more interesting this week as Lee has indicated that he plans to announce the members of the BEP review committee. Word on the street is that many of the usual suspects have indicated a distinct lack of desire to be appointed. The appointment comes with plenty of political risks.

It is undebatable that the BEP formula needs reforming. But is this the administration that should be doing it? JC Bowman, who leads the Professional Educators of Tennessee, sums it up, “It is time for the state to modernize the way we fund our schools. We also know, no matter how well-intended, there will be ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ in any new budgeting process.”

Personally, I’d like competence to outweigh intention.

ABOUT THAT EQUITY

On Friday, I told you about the expansion of the Bridges to Belmont program to 10 out of 12 MNPS schools. Over the weekend I delved into the history of the program.

Launched in 2013, the program began with Maplewood and Stratford high schools for the first year, with Whites Creek and Pearl Cohn high schools joining the list for the second year. All the participating public schools have a high percentage of students receiving free or reduced lunches, which is used as an indicator of low economic status.

Both then Maplewood Principal Ron Woodard and Director of Schools Jesse Register played a significant role in the establishment of the initiative(Bridges to Belmont). with ample assistance from Strattford Principal Mike Steele.

Partnering with Belmont, 26 full scholarships were provided to inner-city students who might not have the opportunity to attend the university otherwise.

It was recognized at the time that many of Nashville’s minority and low-income were not pursuing higher education pathways, this was designed to change that. Providing opportunities where previously there was little.

The program was not a success right out of the box, and it was soon discovered that providing opportunity wasn’t enough. A summer program created to orient and acclimate scholarship winners had some unintended consequences. Per the Belmont vision,

“I think the best way to put it is the program started out in a way that was maybe a bit too programed and maybe a bit too ambitious in what it was trying to accomplish,” said history professor Dr. Peter Kuryla, who taught a course in the summer program. “It really put the Bridges’ students under heavy, rigorous schedule that was, I think, unrealistic.”

Adjustments were made and lessons were learned by both sides. Today, the program has been a boon to over 280 MNPS students. Milton Johnson, former CEO of HCA Healthcare and chair of the Belmont Board of  Trustees, calls the program “a vital pathway” for students in Nashville.” He and his wife, his wife Denice launched a $10 million endowment in 2015 to support the program.

That’s putting money where your mouth is and is necessary because each Bridges scholar is awarded a full four-year scholarship that covers tuition, room, board, required fees, and books. This year the program is nearly doubling in size, from 26 scholarships to 50.

Unfortunately with growth, comes some questions. Chief among them being, with this expansion are the original goals of the program still being recognized? Leaving out two of the cities most diverse schools isn’t exactly making the case.

Neither Cane Ridge HS nor Antioch HS students are eligible to participate in the “Bridges to Belmont” program, despite serving student populations similar to that of the original four schools.

Antioch HS serves over 1800 students, 43% of those students are Hispanic, and 35% are Black. 37% are considered economically disadvantaged. Cane Ridge is similar in size, with a similar demographic. Both serve students that would clearly benefit from inclusion in the “Bridges to Belmont” program but are inexplicably omitted.

Exclusion of the two schools can have a negative impact not just on the students themselves, but the schools as well. If I’m trying to decide between Overton or Cane Ridge HS for my child and one has eligibility in a scholarship program and the other doesn’t. my choice is pretty clear. In a district that promotes choice, this puts one school at a disadvantage in competing with another. That’s not equity.

In the past, the 26 scholarships were divided up equally between the four participating schools. Going forth that won’t be the case. There is nothing to prevent one school from receiving significantly more scholarships than another. Again, that’s not equity.

It’s hard to criticize a program that potentially holds much promise for MNPS students, but if we are committed to equity, we are committed to equity, and this ain’t it.

In trying to find an explanation for the decision to exclude schools, I’ve repeatedly been told, “it’s complicated and is a long story.

Ever notice that whenever people choose to do the wrong thing it’s a long and complicated story filled with details you wouldn’t understand?

You know what’s not complicated?

Doing the right thing.

Come on Belmont and MNPS, do the right thing…at the bare minimum, participation needs to be extended to both Antioch and Cane Ridge High Schools.

QUICK HITS

Been a while since I’ve mentioned Nashville’s Educators Cooperative. While I don’t always agree with them, the co-op has provided a great resource for teachers in an unobtrusive manner. For that, they deserve props. They have a lot happening, so be sure to check them out frequently.

An interesting article in US Today about the decline of jobs in the education sector. Employment decreased by 144,000 in local government education and by 17,000 in state government education in September. Some are puzzled,

“In the educational sector, there’s something going on there we have to do some more research on,” Walsh said, “particularly the education public sector number. I think a lot of people expected with school starting that we’d see that number a lot higher… I’ll say it was disappointing.”

There is definitely something going on despite our failure to recognize it. In a piece that appeared in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, retired professor Peter Smagorinsky offers his insight. He concludes with the following,

And teachers are the ones held accountable for educational outcomes. Who would want to be a teacher these days? I don’t know, but whoever they are, they must love kids and learning. It’s a shame that such love isn’t extended to them by those who decide how a school should be run.

So today is no longer Columbus Day. Hmmm…well happy Indigenous People Day.

It’s National School Lunch Week!! Let’s get wild and highlight the importance of school nutrition and the critical role it plays in helping students succeed in and out of the classroom.

If you’ve got something you’d like me to highlight and share, send it on to Norinrad10@yahoo.com. Any wisdom or criticism you’d like to share is always welcome.

A huge shout out to all of you who’ve lent your financial support. I am eternally grateful for your generosity. It allows me to keep doing what I do and without you, I would have been forced to quit long ago. It is truly appreciated and keeps the bill collectors happy. Now more than ever your continued support is vital.

If you are interested, I’m now sharing posts via email through Substack. This is a new foray for me and an effort to increase coverage. ‘ll be offering free and paid subscriptions. Paid subscriptions will receive additional materials as they become available. We’ll see how it goes.

If you wish to join the rank of donors, you can still head over to Patreon and help a brother out. Or you can hit up my Venmo account which is Thomas-Weber-10. I don’t need much – even $5 would help – but if you think what I do has value, a little help is always greatly appreciated. Not begging, just saying.



Categories: Education

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