Standing Together for Strong Community Schools

Tennesseans invested in local public education.


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.


Senator Gresham Cloaks Voucher Legislation in Driver’s Ed Bill

The Senate Education Committee will be meeting this Wednesday at 3:30 PM (revised date/time posted 3/18/13 at 12:06 PM) and will be reviewing Senator Delores Gresham’s expanded voucher amendment that she is attempting to link to a Driver’s Education bill (SB1358). Her amendment will make vouchers available to many more children in Tennessee, including those who are not in failing schools and do not receive free and reduced lunch. The limited voucher bill endorsed by Governor Haslam is also going to be heard at this meeting (SB196).

If you are the constituent of one of these representatives, please let him/her know you are opposed to public funds being given to unaccountable, private schools/companies. Private schools that accept vouchers are not required to provide transportation, special education services, or English Language support.  Many of these schools also have admission policies that exclude children who have not met specific academic goals, which means that many children in “failing” schools will not be able to get into private, voucher schools. This bill will, therefore, likely serve children who are already doing well academically and don’t necessarily “need” to go to a voucher school in the first place. Please see the below list for the members of the Senate Education Committee and take 5 minutes to contact your senator. If you do not know who your senator is, go to http://www.capitol.tn.gov/legislators/ and enter your address in the “Find My Legislator” text boxes at the top of the page. Thank you for your support of public education!

 For Reference: the TN Senate Education Committee 2013

Name

District

Phone

Email

Dolores Gresham * 26, Somerville 615-741-2368 sen.dolores.gresham@capitol.tn.gov
Reginald Tate ** 33, Memphis 615-741-2509 sen.reginald.tate@capitol.tn.gov
Steve Dickerson ** 20, Nashville 615-741-6679 sen.steven.dickerson@capitol.tn.gov
Charlotte Burks 15, Monterey 615-741-3978 sen.charlotte.burks@capitol.tn.gov
Stacey Campfield 7, Knoxville 615-741-1766 sen.stacey.campfield@capitol.tn.gov
Rusty Crowe 3, Johnson City 615-741-2468 sen.rusty.crowe@capitol.tn.gov
Todd Gardenhire 10, Chattanooga 615-741-6682 sen.todd.gardenhire@capitol.tn.gov
Joey Hensley 28, Hohenwald 615-741-3100 sen.joey.hensley@capitol.tn.gov
Brian Kelsey 31, Germantown 615-741-3036 sen.brian.kelsey@capitol.tn.gov
___________________

FOLLOW UP ON THE CHARTER AUTHORIZER 

Fiscal Impact Of Charter School Authorizer HB702 Reviewed Wednesday 

The House Finance, Ways, & Means subcommittee will be meeting this Wednesday at 10:30 AM (revised time posted at 3-18-13 – 11:23 am) to discuss the State Charter Authorizer Bill (HB702). The members of the full committee are as follows: Charles Sargent, David Alexander, Joe Armstrong, Kevin Brooks, Kent Calfee, Mike Carter, Barbara Cooper, Lois DeBerry, Craig Fitzhugh, Steve Hall, Michael Harrison, David Hawk, Matthew Hill, Curtis Johnson, Gerald McCormick, Steve McDaniel, Larry Miller, Gary Odom, Dennis Roach, Johnny Shaw. If you are the constituent of one of these representatives, please call or email them and let them know you are opposed to the State Charter Authorizer because of the financial strain it could likely place on counties across the state. (We know that you are likely opposed to it for other reasons, but this committee focuses on finances.) The bill in its current form will affect every county in Tennessee and will allow the state to authorize an unlimited number of charters irregardless of the financial status of a district. This could jeopardize funding for all the schools in a district and result in a decrease in services, school closings and/or tax increases.

You can find the contact information for these legislators at the following link: http://www.capitol.tn.gov/house/members/. If you are not sure who your representative is, you can go to this same link and enter your address at the top of the page in the Find Your Legislator text boxes. Please take 5 minutes to place a call or send an email–we need to make our voices heard! Thank you!

Read up on the details here.


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


Latest News On Charters and Vouchers

Latest news on vouchers and charter school info for the last week in January 2013.

A Conservative Remedy To The Great Hearts Mess
From: TN EDU Report

Amending TCA Section 49-13-108
Allowing chancery court a final decision of the state board of education on the charter school’s application.

Scott McNutt’s Snark Bites: Haslam to introduce public-money-to-private-entities transfer program
From: KnoxNews.com

School Vouchers: The Myth and the Reality
From: Raise Your Hand Texas

Link to the Tennessee General Assembly Bill HB 0190 “Opportunity Scholarships”

Cornerstone Situation Continues to Devolve
From: Schooling Memphis

Charter Schools That Start Bad Stay Bad, Stanford Report Says
From: Huffington Post

Legislation to cut public assistance for children’s families who do not do well in school.
From: Huffington Post

 “What if one child in a family is doing well and another is not?”
From: Newscoma 

Harrisburg schools saddled with debt and growing exodus to charter schools
From: Central PA Patriot News

Teachers’ Union Questions Haslam’s Commitment to Public Education
From: Pith in the Wind

CREDO Report: Charter School Growth And Replication’ Study

Voucher plan could cut $270K from city schools
From: The Tulahoma News

Tennessee voucher debate: the chance, and price, of ‘school choice’
From: WRCB 3 Chattanooga


Opportunity for Whom?

Monday, Gov. Haslam filed his anticipated voucher proposal to shift public money away from public schools. The bill is titled the “Tennessee Choice & Opportunity Scholarship Act.”  A first review of the bill cries out for an answer to the question – Opportunity for Whom?

The first thing that jumps out about this bill is its statement that participating private schools need not offer special education services to voucher holding students. Since most private schools offer limited, if any, special education services, this provision seems to explicitly exclude students with special education needs from the “opportunity” the bill claims to create.

Further, there is no requirement that a participating private school accept voucher students without regard to its normal admissions criteria. Thus, with respect to those schools that have such admissions requirements, academically struggling students (the very students the bill is supposed to assist) will also be left without this new “opportunity.”

Certainly there is no new “opportunity” here for public school districts who will see much needed funds flow from their operating budgets.

So who will be benefit from this great new “opportunity”?  Those private schools that are financially struggling and need a tax-funded bail out from the state, while maintaining the ability to screen out low-performing or high-needs students.

Contact your Legislators and tell them you do not want your tax dollars funding private schools.


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.


Educating On the Issues of A State Authorizer and Vouchers

Standing Together for Strong Community Schools is pleased with the response and reception we have received from around the State of Tennessee. We are uniting the voices of like-minded citizens and gathering information to help the legislature understand that implementing a state charter authorizer and vouchers removes local control and siphons off precious education dollars. These initiatives are not in the best interest of the children of TN. Please continue to check our website and “like” our Facebook page to find out ways you can ask our legislators to vote “NO” on both of these upcoming pieces of legislation. Please consider signing up for our mailing list to receive information on upcoming exclusive events and important alerts.

If you are undecided on these issues, here are some articles that might help.

READ ABOUT ISSUES ON THE CHARTER AUTHORIZER AND VOUCHERS

VOUCHERS AND SCHOOL FINANCE: SAVING THE STATEHOUSE $
“Vouchers would ultimately prevent a decrease in education costs.”

GROW SOME JUEVOS (EGGS) ON CHARTERS!
Cloaking Inequity – Julian Vasquez Heilig’s Education and Public Policy Blog

VOUCHERS WILL HURT PUBLIC SCHOOLS
Op-Ed from the Tennessean

STANFORD: WALL STREET GANG NOW OFFER EDUCATION CHOICES
About a quarter of the kids in the San Antonio School District Attend Charters…

NASHVILLE PARENTS PRESS FIGHT ON VOUCHERS, CHARTER AUHTORIZER
“Vouchers would just take money out of an already low-funded school system,” Patton said. “And it’s not a panacea. They’ve not necessarily been shown to raise student achievement.”

NEW GROUP FORMS TO FIGHT VOUCHERS, OPPOSE EDUCATION “SPECIAL INTERESTS”.
Standing Together for Strong Community Schools

VOUCHERS DON’T GET TO THE ROOT OF THE PROBLEM
“Rather than treating children like so many peas in a shell game, our leaders should focus on improving schools.”

RESEARCH EVIDENCE VS. SOARING IDEOLOGY: SCHOOL VOUCHERS AND ACHEIVEMENT
“It is very difficult to find rigorous scientific studies conclusively demonstrating that vouchers have a positive, empirically measurable impact on student achievement”