IT NEVER CEASES

“Do you have a basement? We think there’s a kentuki about to die—could you go down and look?” Some people who answered still didn’t know what a kentuki was.”
Samanta Schweblin, Little Eyes: A Novel

 

On Wednesday, I lifted my hands from the keyboard pleased with my latest piece on the Grow Your Own initiative. I remember thinking to myself, “That should cover it for a couple days.” I couldn’t have been more wrong. It was just the tip of the iceberg.

Within minutes of me finishing my piece, news hit that the State Supreme Court had reversed an earlier decision, and declared that Governor Lee’s voucher program was indeed constitutional and therefore was free to proceed.

Lee might want to temper his celebration a bit though because the legislation is far from free of all legal entanglements. A dear friend was kind enough to explain things in an effort to add clarity. Some of which I will incorporate here.

There are three issues challenging the Constitutionality of ESA: 1) Home Rule, 2) Equal Protection, and 3) Education Clause. The original suit was decided on the Home Rule claim, leaving the other two issues to be litigated later. All these appeals have been on the Home Rule issue only so there are still two other challenges to the Constitutionality of ESA.
This case has been winding its way through the courts for a NY minute. If you’ll remember, on the Home Rule issue, the matter was heard by the Tennessee Supreme Court but Justice Connie Clark died before the Court could issue its ruling. The Court then re-heard the matter with a substitute Justice, Thomas Frierson, until a new Supreme Court Justice could be appointed to fill Justice Clark’s vacancy. Sarah Campbell has since been appointed as the new Justice.
If you’ll remember, after being diagnosed at the beginning of the summer of 2021, Clark expressed her commitment to serving out her full term which was set to end in 2022. At the time of her death, there was speculation that the Lee administration was aware of the severity of Justice Clark’s illness, and was planning on incorporating it into their legal strategy in regard to the challenged voucher plan. Perhaps engaging in a little juror shopping, in hopes of finding a more sympathetic justice. Campbell, the settled upon choice, did recuse herself from this decision but will hear future challenges.
In this case, it appears the Justices were split with Justices Bivins and Page on upholding ESA, while Lee and Kirby found ESA to be Unconstitutional because it violated the Home Rule clause. Frierson was the tie-breaker and he sided with Bivins and Page. Frierson will not hear any future matters in the TN Supreme Court.
Some clarification on the Home Rule clause, it requires that a public referendum be held or local lawmakers vote by 2/3 majority to adopt a state law that affects their local control over their county or city. The Majority opinion held that Home Rule applies only to Counties and Municipalities and not to school districts (LEAs). Earlier courts had held there was a violation of Home Rule because the County and LEAs are closely linked due to funding. The Majority reversed those opinions finding that the close connection between LEAs and Counties was not enough to invoke Home Rule. The ESA legislation only mentions LEAs, not Counties, so Home Rule does not apply.
Justice Lee disagreed with the Majority and wrote a counter opinion. She wrote that ESA requires Counties to use their local funds to pay for vouchers. The loss of control over how their local funds are spent is a Home Rule violation and therefore, ESA is Unconstitutional. Of course, I tend to agree with this view, but that was not the majority rule.
So where does that leave us?
The Supreme Court vacated the trial & appellate courts’ decision on Home Rule and sent the case back to Chancery Court with instructions to dismiss that claim. It remains unclear how that will affect the current permanent injunction prohibiting the State from implementing or enforcing ELA. The Defendants may have to file something asking the Court to lift that injunction in light of the Supreme Court’s decision.
I’m not sure that Lee will rush to lift the injunction. Prior to this legislative session, vouchers came with a value of $7300 per student. A number that doesn’t even begin to cover the cost of educating a child. TISA, you know the school funding bill that wasn’t about vouchers, potentially changes all of that and potentially increases the voucher value to $16K.
Thanks to the legislation, every child, starting next year will come with a dollar figure attached to their name. It would be hard to argue that a voucher should only be worth a portion of that value. But the current voucher program only has funding of $25 million, so if you start handing out those backpacks of money it’s going to disappear pretty quickly.
Meanwhile, the Chancellor still needs to render a decision on the other two claims and all the attached emotions. Injunctive relief could be granted for either of those claims too. So, we will have more answers once Chancery Court takes the case back up.
As a side note, Metro Nashville Public Schools was dismissed as a Plaintiff because of standing, meaning they were not the proper party to bring a Home Rule claim. In a footnote, the Supreme Court said the dismissal was only on the Home Rule claim and no decision has been made as to MNPS’s standing on the other two claims. So, more litigation on those issues is expected and I think, the Public Schools Public Funds lawsuit, McEwen v. Lee, is still out there. That is the lawsuit brought by Shelby County and Metro Nashville parents who oppose vouchers.
I suspect we’ll see some legislation next session that is very similar to what was proposed in Ohio this year. In other words, an expansion of the current voucher law could increase the number awarded and the amount of funding available. A job made infinitely easier by the passage of TISA. we don’t have to waste time next session arguing about what the value of a voucher should be, existing legislation already does that.
As a Tennessee taxpayer, I’m taking note of all those non-profits that publically supported TISA – Education Trust, The Tennessean, and SCORE, being the most prominent. Thanks to their efforts the Governor now has the means to further his madness. Y’all need to own this. There are those in positions of local power that continually think that they can work with this Governor and his commissioner of education, you hold on to that thought to the detriment of us all.
While we all sit around and cackle at anecdotes of her wackiness, and tout our intellectual superiority, her and her enabler, Governor Lee continue to wind back the clock on public education in Tennessee. Undoing decades of progress.
WIT AND WISDOM IN THE NEWS AGAIN
On Wednesday, Fox News 17 ran a story on something we’ve been talking about here for weeks, the suspension of three teachers and a principal at a Williamson County Elementary School over the usage of supporting materials not in the purview of adopted curriculum Wit and Wisdom. The story brought an instant backlash from the normal Williamson County suspects who seem intent on defending Wit and Wisdom even as they profess their love of teachers. From pro-public education advocacy group Williamson County Strong,
This irresponsible reporting by @FOXNashville is going to be used by extremists to further attack our ELA curriculum and district, despite the data not even being from when the new curriculum was in place! If you’re going to do a click-bait story, at least be factual.
Hate to break this to y’all, but Wit and Wisdom is a canned curriculum that serves to undermine the judgment of professionally trained teachers. But an opportunity to evoke a straw man – lately it has been Mom’s For Liberty despite their current inaction in Middle TN – never goes untaken. We can argue declining test scores all day long – if you are inclined to put any kind of stock in that kind of thing – but the bigger concern should be the silencing of teacher judgment. Not only are these teachers not allowed to prescribe an antidote for what they know ails children, but they can’t even discuss with parents why. Hello Houston, we have a problem.
The quality of Wit and Wisdom is in the eye of the beholder, but it is inarguable that it serves all kids. No program has that capacity, and that’s why despite the best efforts of the privatization movement, schools have not been able to “program” themselves for success. Every program has limitations for certain kids, that’s why teacher judgment is so important.  Success continues to be dependent on what it’s always been dependent on…teachers.
Teacher’s who train to serve kids. They invest heavily in educating themselves and preparing to diagnose the needs of children, and then we summarily dismiss those efforts. Yet we continue to be baffled why teachers are leaving the profession and enrollment in teacher prep programs is declining. Who the hell wants to waste valuable time in gaining knowledge that you’ll never be allowed to apply?
I would argue that the goals of diversity in the teaching force remain elusive not due to erected barriers, but rather because minority candidates are smart enough to run a risk/reward evaluation and determine that entering the teaching profession as it now exists is a losing bet. As a result, they chose to apply their talents elsewhere.
Part of the issue is that once an educator leaves a school building and assumes a role at the district or state level, the majority of their time becomes involved in justifying their existence and their 6-figure salary. When was the last time you heard one of these folks say, “I haven’t innovated or come up with any new plans of late. I just focus on helping teachers get what they need and bringing their plans to fruition.”
I promise you, the first time you hear that you’ll be able to thank the speaker when you see them on the unemployment line.
The conventional wisdom leaking out of WCS central office is that Wit and Wisdom was adopted by the district, with full support from teachers, and therefore must be implemented with complete fidelity. Whenever you hear anyone evoke the name of a sub-group as if all are in shared opinion, you can be assured that they haven’t included enough of the aforementioned sub-group in their considerations.
It’s worth noting that Wit and Wisdom did not even make the state’s approved list for K-2, even after Commissioner Schwinn halted the initial review process, fired all the reviewers, hired Chiefs for Change to review the process, and then employed all new reviewers. It failed because it lacked a sufficient foundational skills component, resulting in the TNDOE taking the unprecedented action of creating a foundational skills curriculum and offering it to districts for free in order to be able to approve waiver requests. None of that is disputable.
At this point, anyone who believes that Tennessee’s recent literacy materials adoption process was done with any kind of fidelity is on par with flat-Earthers. leaving us with a choice, recognize the issues that continually arise around materials put in place through a corrupted process, or continue to defend the materials because it provides an opportunity to grind against your political enemies.
Demanding fidelity from teachers is easy when you are sitting in your plush digs or in the boardroom. It’s a whole different story when you are sitting across the table from a child who you interact with daily that is drowning and you know – based on years of education and experience – how to save them and you can’t because those furthest removed from the child demand it.
But hey, we’ve got a corp of tutors on the way to save the day.
MAKE IT UP AS YOU GO
You might remember me telling you last week about the TNDOE’s  Chief Academic Officer Lisa Coons presenting Universal Screener results in literacy to the state board of education. That presentation continues to leave local experts scratching their heads trying to determine where exactly those numbers came from.
Coons indicated that what she was sharing was a composite score made up of students from across the state. This is interesting because LEAs are free to use one of 7 different screeners to meet state law which requires a screener to be administered three times a year. Pulling those disparate scores into one “composite” score is basically impossible. All seven are nationally normed to different sub-groups, not to mention all are different tests. Ask any expert and they’ll tell you, that it is not considered best practice in any realm to try and create a “composite” out of these scores.
Despite the ability of LEAs to choose from one of seven screeners, only one is designated as Tennessee’s state universal screener – that’s AimsWeb, a Pearson product.  Perhaps the results presented by Coons come from districts that administered AimsWeb. The problem is, that’s only representative of a portion of the state and results can’t accurately be extended outward.
Maybe she just made the numbers up. That’s not entirely out of the question as her boss routinely makes up arguments with only a sprinkling of truth included. That could easily be replicated here.
Hopefully, when the state board of education meets next month someone will extract that information from Ms. Coons. But if the past is any indication, I wouldn’t hold my breatjh.
QUICK HITS
There is an emergency budget meeting scheduled prior to this week’s MNPS school board meeting. Part of the discussion will likely include recent figures from the state showing an approximate decline in BEP funds of about 22 million. I guess we are going to start talking about those approximately 3K kids that have left the district, something the board has been loath to do previously. The shortfall is going to require either increased city funding, cuts to the current budget, or a combination of both.  The fun never stops.
This budget hearing was postponed earlier this week when there was a question about whether significant notice had been provided. Part of the delay also stems from a discussion around support pay increases that were supported by a pay study(NPEF Support Pay Overview FINAL) done by NPEF for the mayor’s office. Board members had been expected to vote on the increases without being provided copies of the pay study. It is important to note that the Nashville City Charter allows the mayor to designate amounts of money, but not dedicate them. Something that seems to get more and more lost in the shuffle.
Also lost in the shuffle is the limited value of any pay study as applicants base their choices on their own criteria, and not a comparison of others. The study makes the argument on numerous occasions that MNPS has done n insufficient job making the argument around the value of district employment. Maybe that could be initiative 472.
So how are those tax collections going for the state of Tennessee? You might be surprised at just how robust they’ve been. Per a tracker supplied by the Sycamore Institute,
  • Actual collections for April 2022 were about 44% higher than budgeted.
  • As of April 30, 2022, Tennessee had collected about 95% of the $16.5 billion in total budgeted revenue for the current fiscal year.
  • Collections through April were about $3.4 billion higher (or 28%) than what was budgeted for the time period. With three months left in the fiscal year, it is also $460 million more than the state’s official projection for the FY 2023 surplus.

I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.

let’s close with some joyous news. This week TSU announced that as part of a new initiative at Tennessee State University will provide 100 scholarships to students in Nashville public schools, starting the fall of 2023. per Nashville Public Radio

The perks of the scholarship will begin while the students are still in high school. They’ll have access to a TSU mentorship program during their sophomore year. Once they get to TSU, they’ll receive a laptop, tailored counseling support, and four years of paid tuition and fees.

Pretty damn cool.

That’s what I got today. Enjoy the weekend.

If you’ve got something you’d like me to highlight and share, send it 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 sharing posts via email through Substack. This has proven to be an effective way to increase coverage. I am offering free and paid subscriptions. Paid subscriptions will receive additional materials as they become available. Your support would be greatly appreciated.

If you wish to join the rank of donors but are not interested in Substack, 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. When are you going to write about the principal appointments?

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