“Don’t worry about what people think, because once it’s all over the people who love you will make you what they want you to be, and the people who don’t love you will, too.”
Unless you are a person of a certain generation, you may be unfamiliar with the Manchurian candidate. Written by Richard Condon, first published in 1959. It is a political thriller about the son of a prominent U.S. political family who is brainwashed into being an unwitting assassin for a Communist conspiracy. Made into a film on two occasions, it has also been used as a descriptor of a politician who presents one face while promoting a different agenda. I’m beginning to think that Governor Lee falls into the category of the latter.
Lee ran on the platform of being a staunch conservative, but since he’s been in office, no one has done more to support the ascension of Democrats than the HVAC salesman from Williamson County.
I see your raised eyebrows but stick with me.
To date, Lee’ssignature initiative – besides increasing billable hours for the state’s attorney, is the Ford battery plant that he’s brought to West Tennessee. That deal comes with plenty of generosity from the state, but also the following condition,
If less than 5,184 jobs are created within 10 years, Ford and SK will have to repay a portion of the grant plus $175 million, which represents the value of the land, according to the lease presentation.
Now I don’t believe that there are 5K unemployed autoworkers in Tennessee sitting around waiting for this plant to go online. Yea, we’ve invested heavily in CTE programs in our schools, but it’ll take a few years to see results and that’s assuming all of those students want to remain in Tennessee upon graduation. So where are those workers going to come from? Because Ford ain’t missing that deadline.
They’ll come on down from the north, where auto-making has been centered for decades, drawn by the warmer weather and greater opportunities. That means an influx of two kinds of people – Democrats and union members. Neither of which I would think would appeal to Republicans.
Don’t assume they’ll come alone either. When relocating,, people always like to bring a little taste of home with them. Expect plenty of small businesses owned by transplants to spring up around the new site. That’s more Democrats to add to election rolls.
Last year, Lee helped usher in partisan school board races. Initially, Democrats were resistant to this change, but I think they’ll find they owe Lee a debt of gratitude.
Come Fall, Lee is going to win re-election. Not because he’s a super-competent leader – he’s not – but rather because of a dearth of viable candidates. Simply put, there are few Republicans capable of mounting a viable campaign against him, and the cupboard is especially bare for Democrats. That’s all about to change, partisan school board races will allow both sides to start building a backbench.
Now his grand initiative TISA is passed, with all of its promised financial windfalls and generosity. The reality is, that what passed was a funding plan with no funding. Something that legislators who are almost always on opposite sides of an issue tried to point out this week.
Both Representative Clemmons and Representative Weaver drew attention to the fact that there are no actual dollar figures attached to TISA, just lots of promises. Promises that in the past have remained unfulfilled. Why would we expect this year to be any different?
The Tennessean led its story on TISA’s passage with the following passage,
Despite initial skepticism from even key Republican leaders, Gov. Bill Lee has convinced the legislature to do what hasn’t been done in three decades: revamp how the state funds K-12 education.
Now anyone that has paid any attention knows that statement is categorically false. I’m not going to call The Tennessean folks liars, but Tennessee’s school funding formula has been dramatically revised by former Governors Bredesen and Haslam. Bredesen’s, BEP 2.0, was nearly as significant as TISA and would have gone further toward addressing current issues than the just passed model. But it was never fully funded,
Let me say it again, for those in the back row can hear, it was never fully funded.
So when hear people complain about the BEP, it was never about the formula itself, but rather the level of investment. That issue still remains, so why should I believe anything else will be different with TISA.
A primary issue with the BEP was that it did not allow for legislators to directly fund teacher salaries. Legislators had grown weary of fighting to get more money in the state budget for teachers, only to be confronted by angry local educators at the Home Depot telling them that none of the money had made it to them. That shit gets old quick, Unfortunately, TISA doesn’t solve that issue. In order to invest in teachers’ salaries, the money designated must be increased in order to account for the attached weights.
I laughed when throughout the proceedings, Commissioner Schwinn portrayed state money invested in education as generating more dollars. As if through some magical formula, or the waving of a wand, a $100 million investment would become a $217 million dollar investment. That’s a false description, nothing is “generated” except for a requirement to apply more tax dollars.
Yea, the additional $117 million, is generated from the bank accounts of Tennessee taxpayers. $67 million will come from local municipalities. A requirement of TISA. No getting around it.
The proposed initial investment in teacher salaries, around $125 million, means maybe a $50 a paycheck increase for teachers, provided that doesn’t get eaten up by increased benefit costs.
Representative Byrd pointed out during Thursday’s discussion of TISA that the state only pays 45% of insurance costs for the state’s teachers, despite, paying 80% for all other state employees. In other words, your local teacher is picking up 55% of their insurance cost, while Commissioner Schwinn is paying 20%. Not only that, but employees at TECAT schools and community colleges are also benefiting from the state picking up 80% of their insurance cost.
Who loves teachers? Sorry, I had to ask.
Do you know who can be directly funded through TISA? Tutors.
That may seem unimp[ortant today, but in the near future when legislators are faced with the decision to either invest $217 million in teachers or $100 million in tutors, who do you think is getting the cash.
Recently I completed a video interview for an established tutoring company, It was all run of the mill until question 4 asked me to write a 10-minute lesson plan and teach it. What does writing a lesson plan have to do with tutoring? Unless of course, you are not looking for traditional tutors. To quote Shakespeare in King Henry IV. “Before the game is afoot, thou still let’st slip.”
During Thursday’s House Floor discussion, the only thing that Education Committee Chair Mark White said more than, “ONE BILLION DOLLARS”, was, “We believe decisions are best made at the local level.” Yea, enjoy that privilege while it lasts because it ain’t going to last long.
Included in the TISA bill is a promise that starting in 2026, 70% of third-graders in every district in Tennessee will perform “on track” or “mastered” on their English Language Arts exam and will be eligible for state review. A state review that could “suggest” better ways for an LEA to invest their money. This is despite a lack of research that shows any correlation between money spent and student outcomes. Or any evidence that demonstrates the TNDOE has any idea how to improve student outcomes. Ironically the one element shown to make a difference is a student having a quality teacher, something made more difficult by TISA.
Anybody that knows anything about anything, will tell you that 70% might as well be a 105%. It ain’t happening. And if it did, the first thing we would do is change the standards because they weren’t rigorous enough. So that camel nose that you just let into the tent, look for them to be sitting in your favorite chair, drinking your beer, and watching your TV come 2026, Because the majority of LEAs are going to fall way short.
NPR goes on to offer the following,
As of last year, only 32 percent of third-graders statewide read proficiently but Schwinn reassured lawmakers that only districts that show little to no improvement will likely receive state intervention.
That’s almost comical. Who cares what Schwinn promises? By 2026 she’ll be plying her disruptors skills far from Tennessee.
As for the Governor, the word is he has aspirations to be on the Trump ticket come 2026. Wonder how Trump will feel about his Commissioner sharing the stage with one of his most staunch critics?
So what do you think will happen when the money fails to show up, teacher attrition continues to grow, and the state becomes more intrusive? What do you think all of those folks who ran in partisan school board races will do?
I’m betting they run for state office. And they run with the experience of running a partisan race and connections to the party. If I was an established politico, I’d be concerned.
That’s what keeps me smiling today. All of you who keep thinking that the Governor and his Commissioner of Education are dyed in the wool conservatives, who reflect the principles of Tennesseans, better get ready to gird your loins. This governor and his minion are continually doing their best to facilitate the transference of power in the state.
One other positive that came from this week’s proceedings was that Representatives Clemmons, Johnson, Weaver, and Cepicky demonstrated how you can hold on to your core principles and still reach across the aisle. It was all in vain, but it was a breath of fresh air and gives me hope for Tennessee politics. We need more leaders with their depth of integrity, and fewer of those who follow simply due to party affiliation.
Now that TISA has become law, what’s next?
For that answer, I would encourage you to cast your eyes northward to Ohio. Last year they passed a funding formula similar to Tennessee’s, This year, they are faced with the threat of a voucher bill. Now that the value of each student has been identified, why not let the student put that money in a backpack and spend it where they like?
You can be assured that a Tennessee version of the “backpack” bill will be introduced next session. Rumor has it that Commissioner Schwinn, having spent almost all of her political capital, has little stomach for that fight and may exit before engagement starts. That’s all right though because sitting in the wings as an advisor is former Representative Bill Dunn.
Dunn, if you’ll remember, was the representative that helped everyone get indicted, I mean to pass the Governor’s unconstitutional voucher bill. The TNDOE’s newly hired COO Shannon Gordon should be able to help him with implementation. Gordon comes to Tennessee after spending 25-plus years in Milwaukee and Racine school districts. Two districts with the most studied voucher programs in the country.
Ask yourself, why would someone with a lifetime spent in Wisconsin, suddenly look to move her family to Tennessee in her late forties, or early fifties, unless there is an opportunity to do something on a grand scale? Or maybe, she’s just a Garth Brooks fan.
I expect that a number of TNDOE employees will use the post-TISA time to quietly slip out the back door. This is a bit problematic, as TISA increases the workload for the department of education and they are already short-handed. Don’t be surprised if you see a flurry of RFPs released in the coming months.
Later this summer, legislators will come together to actually create rules and fund TISA. So make sure you are paying attention.
I got to give some props to Commissioner Schwinn. Apparently, Paul Schwinn is no longer employed by TNTP. Hard to believe that both a local charter school and an organization that has received a financial windfall from the state, would let the commissioner’s spouse slip away, but that seems to be the case. If Schwinn’s ethics report is to be believed, Mr. Schwinn earned no income last year. It’s a daunting responsibility to be a family’s sole breadwinner, but Mrs. Schwinn has handled it admirably.
She also needs to be recognized for her charitable contributions. According to the aforementioned declaration, she traveled to and shared her considerable knowledge of education policy on numerous occasions without receiving any financial reward. Others receive thousands of dollars for similar endeavors, but they lack the selflessness of our commissioner who always puts kids first.
Finalists have been listed for the Clarksville superintendent list, and it includes something interesting names. Joining former MNPS candidate and acting superintendent Angela Huff as finalists are Sean Impeartrice, chief academic officer for CMCSS, Jean Luna-Vedder, chief of student readiness for the Tennessee Department of Education, and Mason Bellamy, chief of academics and school for Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools. Come on Mason, you got this.
A thank you is in order for Nashville’s Mayor Cooper. In this week’s State of the City speech, he revealed that he will be funding MNPS an additional ($92 million to MNPS for support staff salaries – including bus drivers – and other needs as expressed by the school board. This is welcome money and hopefully will help alleviate staffing issues faced by the district.
Pay attention to this one. The General Assembly passed a bill that forces more transparency from non-profit groups around elections. While this doesn’t directly relate to education, perhaps it will lead to a deeper look into the role of non-profits in setting education policy. The TISA debate revealed the heavy financial investment of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and their use of smaller organizations, to secure passage of the bill. This is not an isolated instance and warrants further investigation. Not because I believe the actions were nefarious, but rather because I believe in transparency when grafting legislation.
Nashville has its first official candidate for next year’s Mayoral race. Councilmember Freddie O’Connel has declared his intentions to seek office. O’Connell has been an ardent -if not always well informed – advocate for the city’s public schools. We wish him the best of luck.
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