AS THE HAMSTER WHEEL TURNS

Children accept the world as they find it; I took it for granted that all civilized men hid behind walls, and that the open country belonged to barbarians, but I also took it for granted that barbarians could never get inside the walls.”
Alfred Duggan, Conscience of the King

 

This was one filled with action on the proposed new school funding formula – we’ll get to all of that in a bit – and as part of that flurry of activity. MNPS hosted a town hall to supposedly gather more input on the proposed new plan. Of course, Commissioner Schwinn was scheduled to be in attendance.

I elected to stay away from all of this because my life already provides ample opportunity for me to speak and no one to listen. And let’s be clear, no one is listening here, Nobody is in the corner at these meetings writing down good ideas that could be incorporated into the plan. Commissioner Schwinn isn’t hearing anything that makes her turn to an aide and say, “schedule a meeting with that guy. He’s got some solid thoughts.”

PROPE, an education activist group made up predominately of people of color, has been bragging on social media about the number of responses they’ve generated to the Governor. A Governor that has never been particularly empathetic to the causes of minorities. But those responses will come in handy when he makes the case both publically, and in court, that he listened to all voices across the state in developing his revision. he may be listening but he ain’t hearing.

If you want evidence of that? Just take a look at the framework put forth by Commissioner Schwinn on Tuesday – you know the one that was due on Monday.

For the record, the Tennesseans had a copy of the framework before legislators did. Many of them read online for the first time. That includes committee members. Hmmm…do i smell a cut and paste?

But I digress.

That framework includes things like funding for charter schools, accountability measures….wait for it…….tutoring.

So which meeting did people stand up en masse and demand any of those things?

Was I absent the day that people decried district wasting money as opposed to pointing out that the system is massively underfunded?  But you do have House Speaker Cameron Sexton demanding accountability be a central focus, and viola there it is in the formula.

This one is particularly dastardly and has people rightfully upset. Think about this, the message being sent is that we could fund schools at this level but instead of just doing that, we are going to hold back funding and make them jump through hoops to get it.

Here’s an idea, just fund it. Between priority schools, the ASD, pilot programs, TVAAS, TNREADY, and numerous other methods, including the recently passed 4th-grade retention policy, schools, teachers, and students, are already held accountable at a maddening high level. Does Sexton truly believe that a teacher in a priority school, with a 3 rating, being threatened to participate in the latest pilot program is suddenly going to magically become engaged and produce results? Like they were laying in the cut all along waiting to be held accountable by someone who never holds themself accountable?

Charter Schools are long-time favorites of Governor Lee, and shock and awe, there they are in any new funding formula. Even though he’s long proposed to fund students over schools and systems. Pray tell me how that entry meets that criteria. Though for the life of me, I decipher this segment,

This funding weight would ensure that when a charter school utilizes a school facility owned by the local school district and incurs all rent plus maintenance and improvement costs to provide school facilities for their students, additional funding will be available to support in-classroom services and resources for students.

What does that mean? How many of the cited 42K students who attend charter schools, attend one that is housed in a facility owned by a local school district? If the school qualifies what are they receiving money for? is it a reimbursement of rental and maintenance costs? The wording would seem to suggest that they could receive money for teachers, furniture, technology, textbooks, and other items that could be deemed “in-classroom services and resources for students”. There is nothing in the wording to suggest that benefit would equal expense. This could prove to be a quite lucrative benefit for charter schools.

Consider this as well, many states have policies in place that facilitate the usage of district-owned buildings by charter schools. Tennessee doesn’t have such policies in place, is this a means to sneak such incentives in through the back door? If so, what does this mean for charter expansion in Tennessee? How does it impact existing schools in Tennessee that aren’t in district facilities.

Then there is Penny Schwinn’s legacy project – TN ALL CORP. Over the last 6 months, she’s been out strong-arming LEAs to participate even as the program is under construction.  Currently, there is an RFA out looking for a partner to design the program, yet here she is writing it into the BEP.  Somewhere former Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen is slapping her forehead and wishing that she’d have written her signature program Read To Be Ready into the BEP.

As ludicrous as the idea of writing tutoring into the BEP sounds – though if I was a union head I’d be excited about the prospective stream of new members – let’s take a closer look at the sentences in the framework that references tutoring,

Tutoring: Funding to provide high-dosage, low-ratio tutoring via TN ALL Corps for rising 4th-grade students who scored at “Below” on the 3rd grade TCAP (as outlined in the Learning Loss and Student Acceleration statute). Students would have individualized learning plans and data submissions, as required.

Are we really talking about tutoring here? Or are we talking about 4th-grade retention? Why is there direct funding only for 4th-graders? Shouldn’t services go to 3rd graders to prevent retention? Why are districts not provided an opportunity to use funds at their discretion? ALL Corps is a tutoring program supposedly being set up for all grades, so why the narrow proposed usage in the BEP framework? I think if you start peeling this onion back it’s more about providing funds to retain 4th-graders than it is to provide services to them.

The whole framework, as well as the process itself, is riddled with such examples. Lee, and his Commissioner, have repeatedly described the process as being transparent, yet, as the Tennessean’s Megan Mangrum points out, it is one infested with outside private interests, whose level of involvement remains clouded.

The Tennessee Department of Education has contracted with a team of national experts to serve as advisers to lawmakers and school districts during the state’s education funding review process.

But few other details are known.

The department has not yet provided a list of the consultants hired or the applications submitted in response to a procurement process that took place in November and December.

When the Tennessean filed a request for those names and their level of involvement, they received the following response.

A department spokesperson said Monday it was a “lengthy process” to pull the information and by Tuesday afternoon had not yet provided the material or commented on the need for the outside experts.

How lengthy can it possibly be? Mangrum goes on to list a few of the usual suspects, Bellweather Education Partners, the Bush Institute, the Council of Chief State School Officers, the Edunomics Lab at Georgetown University, Excel in Ed, and the Southern Regional Education Board. She doesn’t mention the Hoover institute or Chiefs for Change, but rest assured their fringer prints are on any plan proffered.

While we are at it, let’s acknowledge the large role that both EDucation Trust, SCORE, and the Gates Foundation play in the crafting of the new formula. Which Mangrum points out,

Meanwhile, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation — a heavy backer of both the Education Trust and SCORE — has also pumped more than $525,000 into the state “to support the adoption of an equitable funding formula to improve educational opportunities for all K-12 students in Tennessee,” according to the foundation’s website.

Here’s where it gets interesting with Education Trust. Nobody takes more money from the Gates Foundation to influence education policy than ED Trust. All that money gets funneled through the national office, so it’s hard to track how much makes it to Tennessee, but I doubt that it is not substantial.

The head of the Education Trust, Gini Pupo-Walker, iis also an MNPS school board member. Many hold the opinion that the Governor’s impetus for proposing a new funding format is to avoid an unfavorable ruling in a pending lawsuit against the state over funding of schools brought forth by Memphis and…wait for it…Nashville. This is evidenced by a recent appeal to the courts to delay a hearing,

The joint motion filed by the state Attorney General’s Office says the parties are aiming to resolve the issue without judicial intervention and have agreed to allow the districts to provide input during the governor’s review of the Basic Education Program. It suggests that Lee might propose legislative changes to the formula during the 2022 session.

Eventually, whatever formula is presented, Education Trust will have played a large part in crafting one that will satisfy the courts and free the state from liability. In essence, Pupo-Walker is setting herself up as both plaintiff and defendant.

As the process of reforming the state’s education formula progresses it becomes more and more apparent that Lee intends to fold all education funding into the BEP. Some critics claim the intent is to do this to appear to be adding more money while actually adding none. Without actual figures, I can’t comment on that, but it seems to fit.

I will say that folding everything into the BEP has several potential pitfalls. Take CTE for example, which is a federally mandated program that comes with federal funds. In moving that into the BEP, care needs to be given that we are supplementing and not supplanting expenses. The same could hold true on several other programs, including tutoring, as well.

Schwinn and Lee have been trying to spin a narrative that we are in uncharted territory. It’s a narrative supported by the press, but not factual.  The story of school funding in Tennessee has been one of  Phil, Bill, Bill, and Bill. That’d be Bredesen, Haslam, Lee, and Gates.  In a recent article for Chalkbeat TN, writer Marta Aldridge makes the following claim,

Two former governors, Republican Bill Haslam and Democrat Phil Bredesen failed at attempts to update or revise the BEP, which has been chronically underfunded and prompted a pending lawsuit against the state by nearly half of Tennessee school systems.

For the life of me, I can’t figure out how the two Governors failed at updating or revising the BEP. Both passed legislation that substantially altered the original BEP. In the case of Bredesen, he passed legislation that looked remarkably familiar to the current proposal but was never fully funded. Some would put forth the opinion, that had BEP 2.0 been fully funded, it would have addressed everything lawmakers are now trying to address.

The existing model is a student-based model. The framework outlines a student-based model. The current model is a hybrid model, as is the proposed model. Ain’t nothing new on the table.

In other words, Lee, and Schwinn, are once again raiding the Democrat’s idea bank, to solve an issue that they could easily solve by just funding what has already been passed. Tell me again how Lee and Schwinn are Republicans? Because all I hear from them are recycled Democrat ideas.

As somebody told me earlier today, this is just fresh icing on an old shit cake. Nothing new to see, so move along.

PENDING EVENTS ON THE HILL

Got some goodies coming up next week during education committee meetings.

First up, HB 1674 by Mike Bell (R-Riceville), which would expand eligibility for education savings account to students in school districts taking certain actions in response to COVID-19 is on notice in the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday. The bill would apply to districts: 1) with voluntary mask mandates at any time during the three-year period immediately preceding September 1, 2025, or 2)  districts not offering students 180 days of in-person learning each school year due to COVID-19, or 3) districts that voluntarily imposed a mask mandate in response to COVID-19 and that refused to exempt one or more students from the LEA’s mask mandate in response to the LEA receiving written notification from the student’s parent or guardian opting the student out of the mask mandate. Sen. Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga), who voted against the original ESA bill, has signed on as a co-sponsor of the ESA/COVID bill. The House companion bill sponsored by Rep. Curcio (R-Dickson) and co-sponsored by House Education Chairman Mark White (R-Memphis) is not calendared for next week.

There is concern that this bill would allow the state to claim to the courts that their voucher program is indeed a statewide program and not one targeted at two cities. In my opinion, not a strong argument, but one I’m sure they’ll put forth.

Then there is HB1207 by Rep. Gant (R-Rossville), which, as amended, would create the Learning Pod Protection Act is on notice in the House Education Administration Committee. The bill would authorize parents to voluntarily associate in learning pods to advance their children’s kindergarten through grade twelve (K-12) education without being subject to specified restrictions or regulations. It would also prohibit the state, local governments, and local education agencies (LEAs) from regulating or controlling a learning pod. The bill would also establish that a student participating in a learning pod satisfies the mandatory attendance requirements if the child meets certain enrollment requirements.

That one is a bit interesting, and I look forward to the discussion around it. I can see the pros and cons.

Here’s the actual schedule for the week,

Wed 1/19/22 3:00pm – Senate Hearing Rm I, Senate Education Committee

MEMBERS: CHAIR B. Kelsey (R); VICE CHAIR J. Lundberg (R); 2ND VICE CHAIR R. Akbari (D); M. Bell (R); R. Crowe (R); F. Haile (R); J. Hensley (R); B. Powers (R); D. White (R)
1. SB1674 
Bell M.

EDUCATION: Expanding eligibility for an education savings account to certain students. Expands eligibility for an education savings account to students zoned to attend a school in an LEA that, at any time during the three-year period immediately preceding September 1, 2025, or thereafter, did not offer students 180 days of in-person learning each school year due to COVID-19 or that voluntarily imposed a mask mandate in response to COVID-19 and that refused to exempt one or more students from the LEA’s mask mandate in response to the LEA receiving written notification from the student’s parent or guardian opting the student out of the mask mandate. 
HB1671 – M. Curcio – 01/12/22 – Referred to House Education Instruction Subcommittee.

Wed 1/19/22 3:30pm – House Hearing Rm I, House Education Administration Committee

The committee will hear a presentation by the Education Recovery and Innovation Commission. MEMBERS: CHAIR M. White (R); VICE CHAIR C. Hurt (R); C. Baum (R); M. Carringer (R); G. Casada (R); S. Cepicky (R); J. Clemmons (D); M. Cochran (R); T. Darby (R); J. Gillespie (R); Y. Hakeem (D); K. Haston (R); J. Lafferty (R); H. Love Jr. (D); A. Parkinson (D); J. Ragan (R)
1. HB1207 
Gant R.

EDUCATION: Annual report by the commissioner of education. Requires the commissioner of education to file the commissioner’s annual report concerning K-12 education by October 1 of each year instead of by November 1. Broadly captioned. Amendment Summary: Senate Education Committee amendment 1, House K-12 Subcommittee amendment 1 (005656) deletes all language after the enacting clause. Creates The Learning Pod Protection Act. Authorizes parents to voluntarily associate in learning pods to advance their children’s kindergarten through grade twelve (K-12) education without being subject to specified restrictions or regulations. Prohibits the state, local governments, and local education agencies (LEAs) from regulating or controlling a learning pod. Establishes that a child who participates in a learning pod satisfies the mandatory attendance requirements if the child meets certain enrollment requirements. Fiscal Note: (Dated February 22, 2021) NOT SIGNIFICANT 
SB1154 – F. Haile – 03/24/21 – Senate Education Committee recommended with amendment 1 (005656). Sent to Senate Calendar Committee.

2. HB1174 
Baum C.

EDUCATION: Creates the Tennessee rapid growth school district fund. Creates the Tennessee rapid growth school district (TRGSD) fund for LEAs experiencing rapid growth in student population. Defines a “Tennessee rapid growth school district” as an LEA with minimum average growth of two percent in average daily membership over the five fiscal years immediately preceding 2021-2022. Provides grants to rapid growth districts for the 2021-2022 school year for the purposes of public school-related debt service and capital improvements. Requires the commissioner of education to establish a process for rewarding grants. Fiscal Note: (Dated March 19, 2021) Increase State Revenue $30,000,000/FY21-22/TRGSD Fund Increase State Expenditures $30,000,000/FY21-22/General Fund $30,000,000/FY21-22/TRGSD Fund Increase Local Revenue $30,000,000/FY21-22 
SB1131 – D. White – 05/03/21 – Taken off notice in Senate Finance, Ways & Means Committee.

3. HB1020 
Potts J.

EDUCATION: LEAs provide voter registration to students who are 18 years of age. Requires LEAs to provide each enrolled student who will be 18 years old on or before the date of an election with information on voter registration by mail, email, or hand delivery. Amendment Summary: House Education Administration Committee amendment 1 (006227) specifies that the required information must be prepared by the local county election commission or the secretary of state. Fiscal Note: (Dated February 26, 2021) NOT SIGNIFICANT 
SB914 – J. Yarbro – 04/07/21 – Failed in Senate Education Committee.

QUICK HITS

In what qualify’s as perhaps the scariest thing I’ve seen on the internet, former Knoxville Superintendent James McIntyre shared a picture of himself and MNPS Superintendent Adrienne Battle. Apparently, McIntyre is now head of the education department at Belmont. Still, nothing good for MNPS can come from a relationship with McIntyre. Hopefully, this was a one-and-done pic.

Gary  Rubenstein is an educator from New Jersey that has done a better job chronically the foibles of the Achievement School District than any local writer. In his latest, he voices his disappointment with Tennessee journalists.

Even though I predicted this ten years ago, it is still amazing to me how this is reported and how the people now in charge in Tennessee react to it publicly. Looking back at the 10-year history, it seems impossible. With a $100 million price tag, they came in and took over schools talking a big game. They did the entire ‘reform’ playbook. Even Michelle Rhee had a supporting role since the Education Commissioner, Kevin Huffman, was her ex-husband. The ASD was heralded as the next big thing and there were panel discussions at the TFA alumni summit and other events with the Fordham Institute where Chris Barbic was celebrated. Even as recently as a year ago, there was a remote event about lessons learned from the ASD where they tried to put a positive spin on their failure.

But here we are ten years later and they weren’t able to improve just six schools. And this program is still going on, they are still getting taxpayer money, and around the country, places are still trying to replicate it.

And there’s a media outlet, Chalkbeat, Tennessee that doesn’t realize that as far as Tennessee education reporting goes, this is equivalent to Watergate. Yet they understate things in this article with things like “The announcement marks a seminal moment for the Achievement School District, which did not deliver on early promises to transform schools that the state took over in Memphis and Nashville beginning in 2012.”

Trust me, Gary, you ain’t alone.

That’s a wrap.

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

2 replies

  1. TC hope you are enjoying the snow… and with that I was just going to comment on two things: That Pupo-Walker is exiting the Board. Not surprising given that she has no purpose to go forward what can you do when the State Legislature is simply not interested in local control of schools, unless it suits.

    Then we have a failure of messaging that I find ironic as this is a hometown story, The Vanderbilt Univ. Cabal and price fixing with the other Ivy Leaguers.. with my personal favorite Yale right smack in there. I have little to NOTHING good to say about Yale or well Harvard either… just the alumni alone are few and far between intellects And when you go to New Haven one day you will see how Yale treats the town its located in… you run for your life it is that bad. That said the Yale School of Drama gets a pass.

    But when no local news station is covering the Vanderbilt issue I wonder why? Fear of the hand that feeds the town… I thought Nashville was bright lights big city now? I am amazed at how they continue to humblebrag about all the transplants and the growth while doing their best to ensure that it is a “kind” or “type” they want.. rich, white and CHRISTIAN. Loved the documentary The Way Down, sorry I missed that “church” when living there.

    As for New Jersey the state that spends the most on education well I have been in the schools.. and it is as segregated and marginalized here as there and it is very similar to the region as where you live matters. Taxes are significant but then again you are in NYC backyard and there schools are the most segregated in the Nation. Kids walked out there over the lack of Covid protocol and the irony that the Pols say the safest place for kids is school, well until a maniac walks in with a gun or a bully pushed a kid but hey Covid ain’t flying! Honestly the crisis over staffing was already in place and this just pushed that right over a cliff. What I love is that they are in denial and are sure people are just dying and well maybe to Teach.. I am finally getting the reality is that no matter where I go the schools are very much a dumping ground for the have nots and that it will never change and the irony that Parents are screaming over masks, vaccines CRT and trans toilets have never set foot for any length of time in any school. I suggest they Sub and report back.

    Keep up the fight..

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