Standing Together for Strong Community Schools

Tennesseans invested in local public education.


Join Us. We Are Ready to Advocate for Public Education in 2014.

TREE-logo-spelledoutwtag

The Tennessee General Assembly is back in session for 2014 and education legislation is front and center affecting all Tennesseans. We are back and ready to get to work educating legislators, parents, and citizens across the state about the dire consequences of legislation, pushed by special interest groups, that will negatively impact our public schools, teachers and tax dollars. We will also be sharing legislation that will help public education and return the parent and teacher voice to decision making. We have been quietly building our state network over the last half of 2013 and are looking to begin a new initiative. More and more people across Tennessee are speaking out against mismanaged, underfunded reform mandates.

So to renew our focus and bring commitment to a larger group of state-wide activists we have joined under a non-profit called Tennesseans Reclaiming Educational Excellence or TREE. We hope you will continue to support our effort to speak for public school parents, teachers and advocates. Please follow TREE as we work with the General Assembly to help educate on the perspective of the real impact on public school reform.

TREE has a broader focus beyond the state authorizer and voucher bills that ST4SCS focused on last year. Read about that focus HERE. We will also be sharing our email list with TREE and this ST4SCS site will stand as a reference point. We will begin putting our volunteer energy into TREE’s message. We look forward to working with TREE and all Tennesseans to be a voice that is “ROOTED IN FIGHTING FOR STRONG, EQUITABLE PUBLIC EDUCATION AND IS COMMITTED TO GROWING CHILD-CENTERED EDUCATION POLICY.”

Thank you for supporting us and encouraging us to grow our effort.

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Parent Advocates Ask Nashville to Plan Ahead

broad-school-closingLike the rest of the nation, we’ve been watching the education train wreck playing out in Chicago and Philadelphia.  We are holding our breath as similar scenarios loom for Tennessee cities like Memphis and Nashville.

Memphis is in the middle of a less than smooth merging of school districts with Shelby County, borne out of financial necessity as the Memphis district was facing a staggering budget shortfall.  Now in Nashville, as the costs for charters is rapidly increasing and outpacing the available revenue, the supporters of charter expansion are using new buzzwords “high quality seat”.  What seems to be following those buzzwords is usually something along the lines of “closing down schools” to make room for the charters that will provide the yet to be defined “HQ seat”.

As we hear these “reformers” nonchalantly toss around the idea of closing our public schools, a few questions come to mind.  If you share our concern for all the students in Nashville who are at the center of the current storm, you might also want to hear these “reformers” answer the following questions:

  • What is the 10 year plan for large urban districts like Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville?  What does that plan look like for suburban and rural districts?
  • What will the ratio of charter and traditional schools be in urban, suburban, and rural districts?
  • What metrics will be used to determine which traditional schools are closed? Shouldn’t we hear from the families and communities that would be affected by such closures?
  • When a child’s zoned school is closed, what are the options for a parent who does not want their child to attend a nearby charter school with extended hours and/or school on weekends?  Where will those students go and how will they get there?
  • How will districts pay for increased costs for busing students as neighborhood schools close?
  • Currently, students who are English Language Learners or who are moderately to severely disabled are not served to any significant level at charter schools in TN.  Where will they go to school if their zoned school is closed?  Will such students, who require a higher level of investment, be isolated?  Or will they be educated alongside their peers in charter schools, as they are now in traditional schools?
  • If a child is counseled out or forced out of a charter, what options do they have if their zoned school is closed?

These are some of the many questions that must be answered by those that believe, and have stated, that we need to start closing existing schools to finance charter schools.  The education of our children can not be based on a blithe assumption that “market forces” will sort everything out.  The voters and families of this town have the right to decide whether the “reform” vision is the one we want. Tennesseans, especially those in Nashville, need a truthful picture with specifics of what that vision is before that decision is meaningful or even possible.  If you come across anyone that is willing to answer these questions please send us their responses.

This is more than just about money.  It is about planning for the district’s future.  If you believe Nashville needs to answer these questions before approving any more charters please call your city council rep.

Read about the Charter Moratorium Proposed by City Council Rep. Steve Glover.

Read about School Board Rep. Will Pinkston’s MNPS Budget Concerns.

Find your Nashville Council Representative.


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Momma Bear and West TN Moms Stand Up to Haslam

MommaBearBlog

There is significant backlash against education “reform” developing around the state, including West Tennessee. A West TN public school mother, known as “Momma Bear”, recently wrote a letter to Governor Haslam, notifying him of her concerns with “reform” and a petition she recently launched. We are posting her letter to Governor Haslam as part of a new blog topic series focusing on voices from around the state. While ST4SCS advocates for local control of education policies, we are expanding our blog coverage to include at-large issues that are linked to local control. We strongly feel that points of view from across our great state need to be highlighted. Would you like your voice to be heard? Contact us at info@strongcommunityschools.com.

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I’m Momma Bear, a parent in TN and this is the email I sent to Governor Haslam.
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Dear Governor Haslam,

I voted for you because I believed in you. Now, I’m not so sure.

The more I find out about education “reform,” the more I see how billionaires are changing our public schools for the worse:

…with each new charter school I see popping up where a neighborhood school should be fully funded and thriving,
…with every report of Charter Schools: achievement rates (at the expense of students being kicked out to public schools for low test scores), corruption with money, discriminating against students, being operated by non-Americans (Gulen Charter schools), etc.
…with every teacher lost to the profession because they were unappreciated or offered a job that pays much more,
…with every minute wasted on Standardized Testing and stressing our students,
…with every teacher stressed over how her students will score on Standardized Testing because it will affect her employment,
…with every dollar paid to testing companies that could be spent funding classrooms,
…with every teacher that spends out of her own paycheck to buy supplies for her students,
…with the student TEI “Tripod” surveys that were given to our children, without parental consent, that asked personal questions about our homes, our TVs, their parent’s education, etc.
…with every unqualified, inexperienced Teach For America person that is put in a classroom with poor students who deserve an experienced, qualifed educator,
…with forcing our kids to Race to the Top of nowhere for money,
…and now with the Common Core being forced upon us…

I’m just not so sure anymore that I made the best vote for Governor. I think you’ve been bought out by your rich buddies. I think you’ve been fed a pail of hogwash with this education reform movement. You have lost touch with those that voted you into this office.

When I heard that the minimum salary ranges for teachers had been approved last week, that was the last straw for this Momma Bear. I started a petition on change.org to demand that you to get rid of Kevin Huffman. I’m sure it made a rotten Monday for you to find those in your email inbox. Well, it was a rotten weekend for those who are in college wanting to be teachers knowing they’ll never make what they deserve in TN. It has been a rotten decade for teachers and for students. Their morale is worn, and they are afraid of the future. I had to speak up and do something, and I’m glad I did because…

In less than 24 hours over 300 people have signed it from across the State of Tennessee. Some are teachers and some are parents, but all are FED UP with our schools being “reformed” by those who have no vesting in TN public education, no children in the public school systems, no qualified experience in classrooms, and no business telling teachers and educators how to do their jobs. We’re fed up. Do you hear us???

We’re demanding that you listen to teachers and parents, and NOT Students First, NOT Stand For Children, NOT Achieve, NOT ALEC, NOT Teach for America, NOT The New Teacher Project, NOT Education Pioneers, NOT Charter School Vultures, NOT Bill Gates, NOT Sam Walton, NOT Eli Broad, NOT Michelle Rhee, and NOT any other “non-profit” education reform group. It is imperative that you listen to your voters, and represent us, or we will elect a candidate who will in 2014.

Sincerely,

a Momma Bear in TN

Reposted by ST4SCS with permission.

Photo Credit: National Geographic


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Amended Authorizer Bill Goes State-wide

CALL TO ACTION: Sign the NEW petition on the amended state-wide authorizer bill that will affect all counties in Tennessee. Respect Local Control: Stop the State Charter School Authorizer HB702/SB830. 

When you sign the petition you will be urging opposition of the Bill HB 702/SB830, which would allow a newly appointed panel to override our locally elected school boards’ decisions regarding charter schools and then cut local boards of education out of the oversight of those schools. A state-level charter authorizer would increase the reach of state government into local affairs and create additional bureaucracy. We want decisions about opening and funding schools in our district to be made by our local officials, elected by our local citizens, who understand the needs of our unique communities. Please respect the rights of local voters to shape the direction of their community’s schools and vote NO on HB 702/SB830.

By signing this you can automatically send an email to the entire Tennessee Legislature and ask them respectfully to vote no.

SIGN HERE.

Read about the  issues:

Local Schools, Local Decisions

State Legislature Could Move Local School Funds

Williamson School Chief Warns That Charters, Vouchers Could Lower Home Values
Tennessean

Bill That Would Create State Authorizer for Charter Schools Advances
Knox News

This bill has NO cap on how many charters the state may approve and districts will be responsible for funding all charter schools approved by the appointed panel. Sign the petition and ask your legislators to respect local control and vote no on the authorizer panel.

Thank you for supporting Tennessee Public Schools.


Big $$ Thrown at Parent Choice Between “Opportunity” and Food.

If the purpose of vouchers is to close the achievement gap by increasing achievement and improving long term success for the lowest performing students then why does this plan put these children, who are provided food in their zoned schools, at risk of going hungry? Even more alarming, nearly a million dollars has been spent already to advertise for vouchers. PR for a bill still in committee? We feel this is more of an indication that vouchers will be used for private gain, not to help children.

Read More
American Federation for Children is spending $800,000 on broadcast television for vouchers.
The Tennessean

Voucher Debate Heats Up with $800K Ad Buy
TN Ed Report

Please help us.
Join us tomorrow on the hill, Tuesday March 5th for the House Education Committee meeting at Legislative Plaza, room 16 at 12 PM. They will be hearing the charter authorizer bill and voucher bill (with a likely amendment to expand the program) and we need as many people there as possible. We had a great turnout at the Education Committee meeting on February 19th–we need to fill the room with concerned constituents! As parents, business owners, community members, educators and public school advocates we ARE making a difference and our voices are being heard so let’s show up in force at Tuesday’s meeting.

If you have not done so already, please contact the committee members (copy and paste email addresses below to send your message) or sign our petitions (see links below). Call Governor Haslam’s office (615) 741-2001 to tell him you do not agree with vouchers. Also contact Beth Harwell’s (615) 741-0709 office to express your objection for a State Charter Authorizer as that will be up for vote on Tuesday.

bill.haslam@tn.gov, speaker.beth.harwell@capitol.tn.gov, Rep.Harry.Brooks@capitol.tn.gov, Rep.John.DeBerry@capitol.tn.gov, Rep.Joe.Pitts@capitol.tn.gov, Rep.Harold.Love@capitol.tn.gov, Rep.John.Forgety@capitol.tn.gov, Rep.Roger.Kane@capitol.tn.gov, Rep.Debra.Moody@capitol.tn.gov, Rep.Dawn.White@capitol.tn.gov, Rep.Mark.White@capitol.tn.gov.

Petition Against Charter Authorizer

Petition Against Vouchers


We Need Your Support Tuesday at Noon

A press conference was held at 3 PM CST , Monday February 18th on steps of War Memorial Plaza in Nashville. Speakers included Metro Nashville Council and School Board Members, as well as members of the Nashville delegation of the TN General Assembly. They spoke out against the State Charter Authorizer bill that is going to be voted on Tuesday (2/19) during a House Education Committee hearing.

This legislation would take the decision to open a charter school away from locally elected school boards in Nashville and Memphis only. A state level charter authorizer would increase the reach of state government into local affairs and create additional bureaucracy. Decisions about opening new schools should be left to local officials, elected by local citizens, who understand the needs of our unique communities. The reach of any state level charter authorizer would also surely expand into more and more counties once this door is opened.

We need your support Tuesday (2/19).

If you can join us we will be gathering in room Room 16 of Legislative Plaza in Nashville at noon. We will have ST4SCS representatives speaking. Use the entrance across from TPAC auditorium under War Memorial Plaza.

If you cannot attend tomorrow (Tuesday 2/19), please contact your elected officials and let them know you are against Charter School Authorizer Bill (HB0702) and keep calling Beth Harwell at 615-741-0709.

To sign a petition that auto emails the House education committee to express your view against the Charter School Authorizer Bill (HB0702) click Stop the State Charter Authorizer.

We want to support Representative John Forgety’s bill  (HB0446) to amend the current role of the State Board of Education. It is a good bill.

Need to better understand why you should be against this bad legislation? Here is some helpful reading.

Legislature’s Charter Authorizer Steamroller Revving Its Engine by Schooling Memphis

State charter authorizer bill singles out Nashville, Memphis by the Tennessean

State School Charter Authorizer Bill Filed by TN Ed Report/John Haubenreich

Remember Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst gave $165,000 to the TN General Assembly’s education committees in campaign cash last election cycle. These same beneficiaries are backing the Charter Authorizer bill and vouchers.

This bill is all about Great Hearts. Another “punishment” from the State of TN for Nashville and Memphis.  Here is The Nashville Scene’s Q & A with House Speaker Beth Harwell about her charter school bill. Did you know that MNPS approves on average 36% of all charter applications? Which is higher than the national average. So we are now changing state laws because of one school in Nashville?

Thank you everyone for bringing the real voice of public school families to the State of TN General Assembly.


Urgent Call to Action! Call Beth Harwell.

URGENT CALL TO ACTION! The state charter authorizer bill (HB0702) is scheduled to be voted on during the full House Education Committee at 12 PM on Tuesday, February 19th which is TOMORROW!!!!. The best chance we have of defeating this measure is stopping it in committee, so we need your help:

1) This is Rep. Beth Harwell’s bill–she just asked Rep. White to sponsor it. Today is a Holiday so the Legislators will not be in their offices but you can call Tuesday morning before the House Education Committee meeting to tell her that you are against a state charter authorizer. (Her phone number is 615-741-0709.) If you happen to be one of her constituents, be sure to to let whomever you speak to know. (You can also email her at speaker.beth.harwell@capitol.tn.gov, but phone calls will likely have more of an impact right now. Let’s keep her phone ringing off the hook!)

2) Attend the committee hearing on Tuesday, 2/19 at noon. It will be in House Hearing Room 16 at Legislative Plaza in Nashville. We will be passing out stickers so you can be visually identified as opponents of the charter authorizer law. Let’s pack out the room! (By the way, thanks to all of your emails and phone calls, we are on the agenda to speak before the full committee during this meeting!)

3) Call and/or email the members of the full House Education Committee and tell them you are against the bill. There emails are as follows: Rep.Harry.Brooks@capitol.tn.gov, Rep.John.DeBerry@capitol.tn.gov, Rep.Joe.Pitts@capitol.tn.gov, Rep.Harold.Love@capitol.tn.gov, Rep.John.Forgety@capitol.tn.gov, Rep.Roger.Kane@capitol.tn.gov, Rep.Debra.Moody@capitol.tn.gov, Rep.Dawn.White@capitol.tn.gov, Rep.Mark.White@capitol.tn.gov, rep.kevin.brooks@capitol.tn.gov, rep.jim.coley@capitol.tn.gov, rep.lois.deberry@capitol.tn.gov, rep.bill.dunn@capitol.tn.gov, rep.ron.lollar@capitol.tn.gov, rep.ryan.williams@capitol.tn.gov. You can find their phone numbers at the following link: http://www.capitol.tn.gov/house/committees/education.html

They are hearing us–so keep speaking up! Thanks to each of you for your support. Upward. Onward. Together!


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Power grab on the Hill! CALL TO ACTION!!

Today we are seeing an outrageous power grab play out in the Tennessee legislature.  Legislation creating a process to circumvent the local school boards of Davidson and Shelby counties that allows charter school applicants to go directly to the state for charter approval was filed yesterday (Feb. 11) and is on the agenda for the House education subcommittee today.  This last minute addition of language creating a direct state level path to charter authorization is an obvious attempt to rush this legislation through the committee before the public has any opportunity to review or speak out about this bill.  Tennessee parents and taxpayers are being shut out of decisions affecting our schools and our children.  Tennesseans know that once this can of worms is opened and public input is silenced, by limiting the authority of locally elected officials in Nashville and Memphis, those advocating this power grab will push to expand it until more and more Tennessee counties find local control of the decision to open schools has vanished.  No county will be immune.

If you can, please attend the House Education Subcommittee meeting today at 3 pm in Legislative Plaza room 30.  It would be helpful to have folks there to show that we do NOT want such a huge policy decision pushed through without public input.  Also, whether you can attend today or not, please email all the members of House education subcommittee and telling them you do NOT want to see locally elected officials sidelined in favor of charter school decisions made by unelected, unaccountable persons outside your community.  Here are their email addresses, for an easy cut and paste:

Rep.Harry.Brooks@capitol.tn.gov,

Rep.John.DeBerry@capitol.tn.gov,

Rep.Joe.Pitts@capitol.tn.gov,

Rep.Harold.Love@capitol.tn.gov,

Rep.John.Forgety@capitol.tn.gov,

Rep.Roger.Kane@capitol.tn.gov,

Rep.Debra.Moody@capitol.tn.gov,

Rep.Dawn.White@capitol.tn.gov,

Rep.Mark.White@capitol.tn.gov


Spilling the Milk over Achievement & Choice in Public Education

There is so much talk about “choice” these days.  Choice, being defined as the opportunity or privilege of making a selection or decision when faced with two or more possibilities, seems to be the new education buzz word.  Achievement is so 2011. Americans enjoy the privilege of choice more than any other country and the plethora seems to be as American as apple pie. What clothes to wear and what store from which to get our milk are some of the hundreds of simple, everyday choices we make.   Choices such as who to vote for, where to buy or rent a home, and where to send our children to school are big, impactful decisions that are not made daily, nor are they made lightly.

Governor Haslam recently interviewed Governor Jeb Bush, the Chairman of  the Foundation for Excellence reform lobbying group, about his role in Florida’s education reform while in office.  Toward the end of the interview Bush stated that he was “intolerant and impatient” of people that have an “illogical resistance” to the fast paced implementation of vouchers and charter schools managed by for profit companies.  He went on to compare education choice to buying milk saying that there should be as many choices as possible–“I tell my friends to go to the store and look at all the different types of milk.”

By that analogy we can all assume that everyone can choose to buy whatever kind of milk that is available at the store.  That’s a bad assumption because availability does not mean accessibility.  If I live in the wealthier area of Nashville and my kids need milk, I can just drive to one of three grocery stores that are within a few hundred feet of each other and make my choice between multiple types of regular and organic milk.  I even have the option to buy almond or soy milk if my child is lactose intolerant.  But what happens if I live closer to downtown in a food desert where there is no grocery store near me?  Perhaps I’m fortunate enough to have a car and can drive several miles to the store and buy regular milk since the organic milk is out of my budget.  If I don’t have a car I could ride the bus to the grocery store, unless, of course, I am in a wheelchair and can’t navigate the bus and a bunch of groceries in bags.  The corner store that sells magazines, cigarettes, and soda may have a ramp for my wheelchair so I can buy the one brand of milk they carry and hope it’s not past the expiration date.  My choice seems to have been dramatically reduced, if not eliminated, due to some life circumstances, but ostensibly I have “choices”–I just can’t access them.

Our Governor, Bill Haslam, is now prioritizing the so-called concept of “choice” before actual student achievement.  It wasn’t that long ago that he said Tennessee has an “immoral” achievement gap that needs to be addressed.  Yet he recently stated that he is going to propose a voucher bill that will go to award “opportunity scholarships” to a hand-full of students living in poverty and attending failing schools.  They will, supposedly, then use these vouchers towards private schools, if they can get in that is…

Private schools have entrance requirements that often weed out students with poor performance and those with disabilities–the very students that are the bulk of the cause of the achievement gap.  The students that pass the entrance requirements and gain access to the private schools will have to be from families that can get them to and from school, as well as afford to buy them uniforms and books. The local education tax dollars for these children will then go to the private companies that run these schools and, subsequently, be taken out of the budgets of our already underfunded community schools.

Studies of voucher programs across the nation have not shown consistent increases in student achievement; so TN voucher holders, who will account for less than 2% of TN public school students, are not likely to see significant improvements in their academic achievement.  While the voucher holders experience small class sizes and limited testing the low performing and disabled students who are left behind at public schools struggling with even less money than before will continue to experience large class sizes and relentless testing.  As a result those students will probably not make significant strides, if any, in their achievement and the gap will, ironically, likely widen.  Perhaps the Governor is comfortable with this likely possibility, but we are not.

If we want to see the results of putting choice above achievement, we need look no further than Minnesota: They have had vouchers and charter schools for the past 2 decades and the students who have participated in these programs have not shown significant strides in achievement nor have the district schools improved because of the “competition”.  Our children do not have twenty years to spare to take part in the nationwide choice experiment.

We need improved achievement for ALL students NOW and we believe that adequate funding of our schools is necessary to reach this goal. (Tennessee is 47th in the nation for per pupil funding.) Stand with us for strong community schools and tell your legislators that we don’t want vouchers.  We want adequate funding so all of our students can reap the proven achievement boost from small class sizes, along with individualized attention and support.  We want all students to receive an equitable and excellent education in their community schools. And don’t forget to tell your legislators that WE, as tax paying constituents, are NOT OK with choice trumping achievement.

  • Click here for your State Representative and email or write them.
  • Click here for your Senator and email or write them.


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What Does a Strong Community School Look Like?

We are told by our school administration and our state government we should be engaged parents and citizens. I feel this site gives us a voice. I wonder if lawmakers and policy makers will be listening? Many times we are asked, “What do you want for your schools?” So let’s put together a wish list. Interestingly, I feel most lists made out by any education group might look the same. We need to work together to find a way to make this list a reality. We know what a strong school looks like. We should be able to decide locally how to create it.

Do we need a state-level charter authorizer or vouchers to make this list happen? That is the question we all keep asking ourselves. Why does it take totally dismantling and privatizing to create education quality? And how might those changes affect the good results already happening in system? We feel there are great things on this list that ARE happening at the school and district level in both charter and zoned schools. We hope to bring them to your attention on this site.

WISH LIST
Look for these topics to be addressed in individual posts in the weeks to come.
Smaller Class Sizes
Better Funding
Teacher Training
More Technology Tools
Site-Based Managed Schools
Wellness Programs
Art & Music
Physical Education
Foreign Language
Facilities Improvements
Support for the Disabled
More Recess Time for Elementary School
Strong Academics
Allow all Children to Reach Their Individual Academic Potential
Value Progress Over Benchmarks
True College Prep
True Career Prep
Social Emotional Development
Close the Digital Divide
Safe Schools
Head Start/Preschool Funding
Support for Children of Poverty
Services for Diverse Communities
Mental Health Programs
Mind The Gap
Food Quality
Hands-on help in the classroom to service testing and return teachers to teaching.

Want to add to this list?
Email us. info@strongcommunityschools.com

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