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.


What’s the latest news on the state charter authorizer bill?

Unfortunately, HB702/SB830 continues its winding path through the legislature. Last week, the House finance subcommittee discussed a further amendment which would apply the state-appointed charter authorizer panel to just 5 counties – Knox, Hamilton, Hardeman, Davidson, and Shelby. After legislators raised concerns about “checkerboard legislation” and turning some counties into “guinea pigs,” they adjourned. This amendment will presumably be considered by the subcommittee again this Wednesday. A Nashville reporter tweeted that after the meeting, there was a “pow-wow” and “lots of whispering” between the bill sponsor and the head of the Tennessee Charter Schools Association. Here is the latest:

http://www.tennessean.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2013303270171

The Metro Nashville Public Schools board has called a special meeting Monday (April 1st) at 3:30 p.m. to discuss the financial impact of this bill on MNPS schools and taxpayers. The board chair invited State Education Commissioner Huffman, who has objected to any financial protections for districts being placed in the bill, to attend the meeting. Huffman has refused to attend and discuss his position or the local board’s concerns about the pending legislation.

Commissioner Refuses Meeting
http://nashvillecitypaper.com/content/city-news/state-ed-commissioner-refuses-meeting-mnps-over-charter-authorizer-bill

Huffman Rejects Invite
http://www.tennessean.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2013303290082

Remember, this bill still has hurdles it must clear before it could become law, and we still need to be vocal in opposing it! PLEASE call your legislators and tell them to vote against this unfunded mandate that could create huge deficits for public school districts. A personal email has a huge impact at this stage when you voice your opposition to this bill and your support for local control and local decisions for schools in your community. Please email the members of the House Finance subcommittee and ask them to oppose HB702. Email addresses for you to cut and paste:

rep.mike.harrison@capitol.tn.gov, rep.david.alexander@capitol.tn.gov, rep.joe.armstrong@capitol.tn.gov, rep.kevin.brooks@capitol.tn.gov, rep.lois.deberry@capitol.tn.gov, rep.craig.fitzhugh@capitol.tn.gov, rep.david.hawk@capitol.tn.gov, rep.gerald.mccormick@capitol.tn.gov, rep.steve.mcdaniel@capitol.tn.gov, rep.gary.odom@capitol.tn.gov, rep.dennis.roach@capitol.tn.gov, rep.charles.sargent@capitol.tn.gov

And if you haven’t already, please sign the petition opposing HB702/SB830:

ST4SCS will continue to watch this bill and as parents and public school advocates we will express disapproval. Thank you for your support.
Read more about why a state-level charter authorizer is bad for school districts and why defeating this legislation matters.


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.


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.


1 Comment

Why Local Control Matters

1. A Statewide Charter Authorizer (SCA) would increase the reach of state government into local affairs and create additional bureaucracy.

2. Unlike local school boards, the members of an SCA would be appointed, not elected. Therefore, an SCA would not be accountable to the voters of Tennessee–in fact, the appointed bureaucrats in the SCA would not be accountable to you at all.

3. An SCA cannot possibly understand the unique needs of every district in the state. Locally elected school boards can adapt to the unique social and cultural dynamics of their community and pursue more creativity in addressing educational issues which develop.

4. Because local school boards are directly elected, they hold a greater stake in the success of the schools in the district. Therefore, they are more likely to ensure that the charter schools they approve are going to meet the needs of their community.

5. The state of TN has not proven that an SCA is needed:

  • The state’s website indicates that TN school boards are already doing an adequate job of selecting and monitoring charter schools:
    “Charter schools are public schools operated by independent, non-profit governing bodies that must include parents. In Tennessee, public charter school students are measured against the same academic standards as students in other public schools. Local boards of education ensure that only those charter schools open and remain open that are meeting the needs of their students, district and community. Local boards do this through rigorous authorization processes, ongoing monitoring of the academic and financial performance of charter schools, and, when necessary, through the revocation or non-renewal of charters.”
  • The charter schools in Metro Nashville have generally performed better than charter schools in other parts of the state, suggesting that the Metro Nashville Public School Board has done a good job of selecting and monitoring its charter schools. Perhaps the state of TN should ask the MNPS Board to share its charter procedures with other school boards across the state rather than entirely removing the right of these elected boards to choose what is best for their individual communities.

6. Schools authorized by an SCA would take money from the budgets of our local public schools and existing, locally authorized charter schools. The SCA would, therefore, arbitrarily take money from the funds reserved for our districts’ needs.

 7. Because of some of the problems that can occur if charter schools are not closely monitored, it seems that the individuals most invested in the success of these schools (i.e., locally elected school boards) should have the final say in which schools should be allowed. Some of these problems are as follows:

  • Charter schools tend to exclude/under serve students with disabilities.
  • When charter companies decide to call it quits, or are forced to close due to poor performance,  they disrupt communities.
  • Some charter schools have dramatically restricted curricula, removing art and music classes.
  • Charter companies are not accountable to parents and citizens through local elections, so parent voice and control can be diminished.
  • Charter schools can increase racial and economic segregation, sifting society and marginalizing social capital.
  • Many charter companies do not outperform traditional public schools.