Into The Final Weeks of Tennessee’s General Assembly

“For All in the Family and the many shows it spawned, the generation gap merged with class distinctions as the new generation seemed less held back by class than by culture. Mature white working-class men in popular culture, therefore, would be hard-pressed to have values in any enviable sense. This came to the fore in August 1974, when actor Carroll O’Connor refused to show up on the set while replacement workers did the jobs of striking electrical equipment operators at CBS. His nearly month-long show of solidarity single-handedly halted production of All in the Family, earning him the wrath of the producers, television critics, and fans alike. Meantime, his otherwise politically progressive co-stars saw little wrong with going to work in the midst of a strike and treated O’Connor as a bit of an oddity. “I don’t think he has any support anywhere,” remarked Jean Stapleton who played Edith; “It was very noble-sounding, but not, uh, wise.”
Jefferson R. Cowie, Stayin’ Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class

Here at our house, today marks a return from a week of Spring Break. Nashville students and teachers enjoyed a welcome respite, though not much else slowed down. Let’s dive in.

The Tennessee General Assembly is beginning to wrap up its work for the year. Several committees will be holding their last meetings this coming week, and several bills face their final hurdles. This all could get very interesting.

Up on the Senate floor, tomorrow is a bill that would increase the average salary of a first-year teacher to 50K by 2028. Attached to that bill, is a provision that would end payroll deductions for teacher labor organizations. Should that pass, MNPS and TEA will both have to create a system of collecting dues outside of withdrawing them automatically from teachers’ paychecks. That may not sound like a big deal, but trust me it is.

I’ve heard people ask, what’s the rationale at work here? As always, it’s about politics. Lawmakers argue that the union is using district resources to raise money to invest in opponents that run against sitting lawmakers, making re-election more difficult.

If that was all there was to it, legislators might not take as much exception. But there is also the feeling that too much of that cash goes to candidates who support issues out of the purview of education. The argument is that teachers are unaware of what their dues are supporting, and at times the donations run counter to member wishes. Maybe, maybe not.

On the House side, Representative Chris Hurt (R-Halls) is introducing an amendment that would divorce the salary increase from the ending of payroll deduction. Governor Lee has made it abundantly clear where he falls in regard to ending payroll deductions for labor organizations.  I would argue that should this amendment pass, it signifies Lee’s official entry into lame-duck status. At the very least, this should produce some interesting political theater.

Some may assume that the payroll deduction eradication effort is a shot at TEA, the state teachers’ union. But I’ve heard rumblings that it is actually a shot by the Governor’s Legislative Director, Brent Easley, at Public Educators of Tennessee (PET), and its Executive Director JC Bowman, who has been openly critical of Governor Lee’s education policies in recent years.

Bowman is a lifelong conservative, so painting him as a left-wing loony is a bit difficult. Ironically, the change will have little effect on PET, as they have already put in place the infrastructure for collecting dues outside of payroll deduction.

For their part, TEA has been largely absent as a power player in this year’s session. Chief Lobbyist Jim Wrye has been spotted more in the capitol’s designated smoking area than in legislative sessions. Last week, he began testimony on a proposed amendment to the third-grade retention bill by telling legislators that he, “hadn’t had time to fully read the proposed amendment but…”. The amendment is a single page with three provisions.

Should the proposed payroll deduction amendment go through, look for Wrye to take full credit and use it to drive future fundraising efforts.

Full disclosure, we’ve been a proud union family for close to two decades and will continue to be supportive of their efforts as they relate to improving opportunities for teachers. Though I would add, it may be time to consider hiring some new legislative voices.

Fire up the popcorn maker, this should be a fun one.

Third-Grade Retention

What can you say about Tennessee’s third-grade retention that hasn’t already been said a thousand times? This week, there will be even more talking, as an amendment making changes to the original bill will be heard in both the Senate and the House.

If passed the bill would add a state benchmark test as a data point for decisions on the retention of third graders, broaden the scope of who can help file an appeal for families of those students designated for retention, and offers tutoring and summer school resources for at-risk kids in k-2. The latter further lifts restrictions on who districts can utilize for tutoring services.

Will it pass? The word from lawmakers on the Senate side is, it is this or nothing.

My unpopular position is…nothing.

The bill is done. The room has been fully clouded in hyperbolic smoke – from both sides of the argument. Time to let the smoke dispense and gather some actual data in order to guide policy, instead of just smacking on band-aids that may ultimately make things worse.

The other option is to only let legislators who can accurately define the difference between, screeners, benchmarks, and standardized tests, vote on the amendment. Oh, wait…that would just produce my preferred outcome.

A Fond Farewell to Federal Funding

A couple of weeks ago, Tennessee’s State Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) announced plans for Tennessee to look into rejecting federal education funds. Many of y’all didn’t take him seriously when he put it out there. If you don’t think he and fellow Republicans are serious in this pursuit, you are in for a rude awakening. They are as serious as a heart attack.

Last week, Sexton proposed legislation that would form an exploratory committee to lay out exactly what it would take for Tennessee to divorce itself from federal funding and the strings attached to it. The study group would be helmed by Tennessee’s esteemed commissioner of Education Penny Schwinn. This is intriguing because the Commissioner has been spending a lot of time on the road of late, promoting increased federal investment in education.

Over the past several months, the commissioner has made several trips out of state to meet with non-profit groups on ways to grow federal investment in education. Last week, she was a member of a panel at SXSW EDU focusing on the importance of school funding and how it relates to educational attainment, earnings, crime, and poverty.

In response to an inquiry from The Tennessee Star about the appropriateness of Schwinn heading the proposed task force, Sexton’s office said via email, “As we work through the process of moving away from K-12 education funding with federal stipulations attached, the General Assembly will require considerable data and information from the Department of Education. Therefore, it is appropriate to have Commissioner Schwinn as one of the eleven members on the task force created by our legislation.”

Hmmm…interesting, sometimes what is not said is even more important than what is said.

I suspect that outgoing calls from the offices of the Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) to employment headhunters just increased.

Nebraska to Get Some Tennessee Flavor

Nebraska is looking for a new chief of education since the old one split after 9 years to pursue life in the advocacy world. An ad hoc search committee of the Nebraska State Board of Education (NDE) named four finalists for Nebraska’s next Commissioner of Education, and TDOE’s Chief Academic Officer Dr. Lisa Coons’ name is among them.

Tennessee’s literacy expert joins the following in pursuit of the position:

  • Dr. Brian Maher, CEO and Executive Director of the South Dakota Board of Regents, Pierre, South Dakota
  • Dr. Melissa Poloncic, Superintendent, DC West Community Schools, Valley, Nebraska
  • Dr. Summer Stephens, Superintendent of Schools and CTE Administrator for Churchill County School District, Fallon, Nevada

Coons likely saw the writing on the wall when Eve Carny was recently promoted to Deputy Superintendent and named a Future Chief by Chiefs for Change.

Now let’s see if she gets the gig.

Short Cuts

Tuesday, representatives of Metro Nashville Public Schools will testify in the House Instruction Committee. The appearance comes in response to charges that legislators never hear from the big four urban districts.

No word on what will be included in the presentation. But I suspect that MNPS officials will want to talk lack of funding, while lawmakers will look to talk about achievement. Let’s see whose desires are met.

– – –

It appears that MNPS’s Director of Visual and Performing Arts remains behind bars in Clarksville. Ironically, and typically tone-deaf, MNPS chose last week to run social media ads promoting the success of MNPS’s individual school bands, and by de facto the work of the man who suffered a mental crisis the previous week. I find it completely baffling that someone with this high a profile could suffer unacknowledged.

– – –

Putting this blog together requires a great deal of time and resources, If you think it’s valuable, your support would be greatly appreciated.

A huge shout-out to all of you who’ve already 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. Readers have the option of either free or paid subscriptions. Paid subscriptions will potentially 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, Christmas is right around the corner.

If you’d like less opinion and more news, check out my writing for The Tennessee Star. It’s a bit drier but equally informative.

Categories: Education

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