Everybody is a Disruptor, While Nobody Wants to be a Builder

“Well, ain’t you the clam’s cuticle!” said Mr. Ogden.”
Ngaio Marsh, Death in Ecstasy


As I type today, I’m watching the Tennessee House floor session – hopefully the last of the year.

I’m going to refrain from adding too much commentary – as I believe those who seek the spotlight should be sated at this point.

Though I will say, that when you make a policy argument personal and leave no room for a graceful concession, you make permanent enemies. Some folks wear that list of enemies as a badge of honor, but the longer that list the deeper the baggage carried, and there ain’t no porters available.

In the age of immediacy, and social media dominance, we fall into the trap of mistaking the sound bite for a sound argument. In other words, we confuse knowledge and wisdom.

Decorum these days is seen as an ancient artifact, whose rules must be rewritten by each individual. There is no recognition of history, context, or precedent. There is no observation of professionalism towards one other.

We’ve entered a place where we share citizenship in arguably the greatest country in the world, yet we are quick to claim the status of oppressed. A term tossed around with little recognition of what true oppression looks like around the world. Frank Karsten and Karen Beckman back in 2012 wrote in Beyond Democracy, democracy cannot be fixed because it is inherently broken:

“The problems of democracy are inherent. It’s like having dinner with a million people and deciding up front the bill will be split evenly. Everyone has a strong incentive to order more than he would individually, resulting in a huge bill that everyone deplores but no individual could do anything about. Democracy, therefore, has a very limited self-cleansing capability. Our politicians have a natural short-term outlook since they are only temporarily in office. They will overspend, overtax and over borrow knowing their successors will have to deal with the negative consequences. Besides that, they spend other people’s money anyhow.”

I’m beginning to fear that they may be correct. But, in this case, it is not the bill we are fighting over, but rather the meal itself.

It is an easy task to disrupt, but more difficult to build. As I’ve stated for probably a decade now, It’s fine to make plans to win a war, but it is equally important that plans are developed to win the peace. I see no evidence of anyone considering the construction of those plans.

Talk to any teacher, and they’ll tell you that the number one issue schools are facing is discipline. We cite all kinds of reasons – poverty, COVID, social media, etc. – but do we ever stop and look at the behavior modeled by adults? Do we ever consider the example we set when we engage in what was once considered social discourse?

Under the guise of making a “better world”, we don’t search out equity, but rather new people to marginalize. We tear at the social fabric without consideration, nor concern for what comes after. We all want to be Supreme Court Ruth Bader-Ginsberg or Dr. Martin Luther King, but we think we can get there without exhibiting any of the grace, empathy, or self-awareness they exhibited.

Listening to freshman Tennessee state representative Justin Jones and Justin Pearson go after Speaker Sexton, I can’t help but think of the words of Ginsberg: “Once asked how we could be friends, given our disagreement on lots of things, Justice Scalia answered: “I attack ideas. i don´t attack people. Some very good people have some very bad ideas. And if you can´t separate the two, you gotta get another day job. You don´t want to be a judge. At least not a judge on a multi-member panel.”

I see no good ending to any of this. You cannot shame and humiliate those who disagree with you into submission. This is unsustainable.

Today, the idea of a “national divorce” creeps around the edges, dismissed as fear espoused by conspiracy theorists and fringe elements. But stop and think for a minute, how many divorced couples once treated the idea of their marriage dissolving as a ridiculous idea? How many wish, they would have taken it just a little more seriously when there was still time to reverse direction?

Yet he we are, rapidly accelerating towards what feels more and more like a predetermined destination.

All I can say is…breaks my heart and I fear for the world our children will inherit. A world where nothing matters and what if it did.

– – –

This week several bills pertaining to education made the leap to passage, and now await the governor’s signature to make them law.

The first guarantees more money for teachers while taking away the ability for teacher labor organizations to make payroll deductions for dues. The new law states that within five years, starting teacher pay will be set at $50K.

The increase in pay is a welcome benefit, but the loss of payroll deduction is considered a vindictive act by many. Both the Teacher Education Association (TEA) and Professional Educators of Tennessee will be impacted by the new law. An unintended consequence should be a tighter focus on issues by both organizations.

Instead of a deduction coming directly from a teacher’s paycheck to the organization, they’ll now have to briefly park in their bank account, where it’ll actively compete with housing, utility, and grocery bills. This will create a Monty evaluation of value, as opposed to the annual evaluation previously faced.

In talking with local union officials, they expressed disappointment with the law, but argue that it changes little. The work still needs to be done, and the work is continually ongoing.

They argue that there is no problem attracting new members – MNEA leadership was recently recognized for their recruitment efforts – the problem is retaining members. Not because of dues, but rather because they leave the district or profession on to regular an occurrence.

– – –

Both halves of the Tennessee General Assembly have passed bills that would expand Tennessee’s ESA pilot program. Though the two versions differed in the counties that will be included in the expansion. The Senate bill only included Chattanooga, while the House expands eligibility to both Knoxville and Chattanooga.

The original bill was tied up in court for the last 3 years, and just this year began enrolling families.

In arguing against the bill, Representative Antonio Parkinson (D-Memphis) stated that expansion was being proposed because “nobody was interested in participating”. Interesting argument considering that 500 people are currently enrolled, and 1500 additional applications are currently under consideration. So is Parkinson arguing that those 500 people are, “nobodies”?

Representative Yusuf Hakeem (D-Chattanooga) made an equally interesting argument. He argued that the House was ignoring the will of the people despite the new bill being brought forward by an elected senator from Chattanooga. In essence, he was arguing that his position should be recognized as the will of the people over the other representative whom he accused of trying to impose his voice over Hakeem’s as the will of the people. I’ll let you untangle that one.

The House voted to undo its amendment that adds Knoxville to the pilot program and then voted to approve the Senate version which expands eligibility to Chattanooga families.

Once again efforts were framed by voucher opponents to paint the program as targeting primarily black and brown kids. Not quite sure why if black and brown families feel their children are being adequately served by zoned schools they would explore alternate options, but okay.

I’m also going to throw this out there, as someone who has spent considerable time with people of both the Black and Hispanic communities, I am continually perplexed by efforts to portray them as being homogeneous in their interests.

I would argue, that even in their individual demographic designations there is a wide range of ideological visions among them and that any attempt to portray them as sharing common interests beyond health, wealth, and happiness, is at best disingenuous. It reeks of being more of a political tool than an accurate reflection of reality.

Representative John Ray Clemmons (R-Nashville), Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville), and I all share a common skin tone and place of residence, beyond that, the similarities end. Yet nobody expects us to be of a like mind, a luxury seldom afforded to other demographic groups.

Here’s something else I’d like to share with Rep. Parkinson and his fellow legislators. Unlike several of them, my children attend public schools. And I’m not talking about the Spanish emersion schools that have no Spanish people. I’m talking about schools that serve high populations of immigrant and impoverished students.

After 8 years, I’m more and more inclined to take a look at one of those vouchers for myself.

Must be the racist or homophobe in me.

Or maybe, it’s the slow recognition that the narrative doesn’t match reality, and the interests of my children are of no concern to state and district leaders.

Maybe when those legislators tossing around slurs slide their chips on the table next to mine, I’ll consider their words as more than public posturing and a means to hold onto their jobs.

– – –

Speaking of adult needs, has anybody seen that Tennessee Commissioner of Education? You know…what’s her name…Jenny…no…Connie…come on, last name is…Sin…no…anyway, you know who I’m talking about…seen her lately?

I know next week she’s out of town. Heading back to DC for yet another symposium. This one is with the Aspen Institute. She wasn’t around this week either. Travel records from the first quarter indicate she’s earned a lot of frequent flyer miles.

Now she could be busy moving into that $1.8 million house she and Paul just bought last month in the southern part of Nashville.

Of course, a glance at her recently filed conflict of interests disclosure shows the old house, one she sold six months ago for $1,157,500. I know, it probably still feels like home.

Who knew that being a public servant came with such perks. I just hope the lady gets the come off the road for a bit so she can enjoy those perks.

– – –

Metro Nashville Public Schools has submitted its proposed budget for the 2023-2024 school year, and it seems like they are asking for a raise. I say seems like because the budget is divided into different components and only the basic is totaled up. It comes in at just over $1.1 billion due to inflationary impact. Ironically, the district notes the impact of inflation on their budget but remains silent on whether COLA raises for teachers are included.

in addition to the baseline budget, there are a number of aspirational items. These are not totaled, as explained by MNPS spokesperson Sean Braisted, “As we have done for the last few years, we’ve included a large menu of options based on stakeholder feedback over the years along with the costs to fund those programs. We do not expect or anticipate they will all be funded, and the continuity of federally funded initiatives will continue to be funded with ESSER through the end of next school year.”

There is a funding request to incorporate “classroom associates.” These associates would be assigned to individual schools in general assistant roles but could also be utilized as substitute teachers. They would be employed full-time and eligible to participate in benefit and professional development programs. MNPS has requested a $12 million budget for this strategy.

If this sounds familiar, you might recognize it from my run for school board run. It was one of my primary proposed initiatives.

This year the district has federal money to supplement the budget, next year things change.

The Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding will end next summer, requiring MNPS to increase its annual budget request or find alternative grants to continue programming. Nashville schools received $425 million in ESSER money and have used it to invest in tutoring, summer learning programs, reading support, mental health resources, teacher bonuses, laptops for students and staff, and putting school nurses on every campus, to combat the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

After the 2023-2024 school year, federal funds through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund will no longer be available. In their budget proposal presentation, MNPS lists separate amounts needed to sustain programs impacted, at around $55 million annually.

Things get even more interesting when you add that TISA implementation starts this year. TISA is the new formula Tennessee is using to fund schools. It calculates funding based on a formula that assigns a base value to every student and adds money for certain weights to arrive at a per-student funding amount. Safeguards are in place for the first four years of implementation to prevent districts from losing funds due to a decline in enrollment.

Currently, MNPS growth is flat. District enrollment – traditional and charter schools included – grew by o.26 percent, or 622 students, from 79,651 to 80,273 students in pre-school to grade school. Tradition school enrollment grew by 460 students, while district-authorized charter school enrollment grew by 162 students.

While advertised as a per-pupil funding plan, that’s not exactly true. MNPS uses its own student-based funding plan to fund individual schools. Their categories do not exactly match that of the state.

The way this works is that a number for the district is derived from the state’s per-pupil funding formula. The district is then given that lump sum, of which they add an additional roughly 40% of local money, before running it through their per-pupil funding formula and awarding another lump sum to each school. In other words, the back packs of cash get traded out on the way to the student.

The budget now heads to Mayor John Cooper, who will review it and decide how much he wishes to include in his city budget, which he is scheduled to present to Metro Council by April 30. MNPS will hold budget hearings and then approve a final budget by the end of June for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins on July 1.

The mayor and council can only approve a funding total; the city charter prevents them from directing funds to individual line items.

Buckle up. This could get fun.

– – –

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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