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As Easter approaches, the Tennessee legislature is spending Holy Week conducting business as usual. The ESA voucher bill is expected to hit the floor for a final vote before Good Friday. As we come down to the wire, we wanted to get some perspective on ESA vouchers from the faith-based community. We found two different pastors with two different views.
One pastor, Glen Gaugh, who was lucky enough to score an invitation to the recent closed-door meeting with Betsy DeVos in Nashville, describes himself on Facebook as a minister, mental health social worker, fireworks store owner, and faith-based life coach in Jackson, Tennessee. Gaugh was invited to speak before the Senate Education Committee hearing last week in favor of the ESA voucher bill.
Another pastor, Brad Fiscus, a lay minister, director of NextGen Discipleship for the Tennessee Conference of the United Methodist Church, and founding member of Pastors for Tennessee Children, was not invited to the closed-door Betsy DeVos meeting and was not invited to speak before the Senate Committee. Instead, he delivered his speech against ESA vouchers at the Tennessee Strong Rally outside on the Capitol steps.
Interestingly, both men have ventured into politics. Gaugh ran unsuccessfully for state representative in 2016 while Fiscus is currently an elected school board member in Williamson County. Fiscus wants you to know that when he was speaking on the Capitol steps, he was doing so as an individual and a representative for Pastors for Tennessee Children. He was not speaking as a member of the Williamson County Board of Education.
In alphabetical order, we have listed the views of each pastor below...
Brad Fiscus, Pastors for Tennessee Children
A message delivered on the state Capitol steps:
My name is Brad Fiscus. I am a founding member of Pastors for Tennessee Children. I am a lay minister and Director of NextGen Discipleship for the Tennessee Conference of the United Methodist Church. I am a former public school teacher in my home state of Indiana as well as Metro Nashville Public Schools. I am a resident of Franklin, the parent of two teenagers in high school in Williamson County Schools, and a member of the Williamson County School Board.
My entire post-college year career has been dedicated to helping young people discover who they are and who they were created to be.
Pastors for Tennessee Children is a broad coalition of clergy and faith leaders from across the state of Tennessee that provides assistance to our local neighborhood and community public schools, and advocates for those schools, principals, teachers, staff and schoolchildren by supporting our free, public education system, and advancing legislation that enriches Tennessee children, families and communities.
I stand in opposition to Educational Savings Accounts, Educational Scholarship Accounts, Vouchers or any other euphemisms that have been used to promote this legislation.
My opposition is not because I have an issue with Private schools or the parent’s right to choose that for their children, my opposition is much deeper.
As a person who serves in ministry, I am called to serve all people, while some may choose to go to other congregations, denominations, or may choose not to go at all, my calling is to serve ALL people regardless of ability, ethnicity, socio-economic standing, immigration status, sexual orientation, or belief system.
God has called me to be in ministry with every person I encounter.
In the same way, public schools are required to provide a free and adequate education for ALL children in their community regardless of whether they choose to attend.
I am reminded in scripture that I am to Love the Lord my God with all my heart and with all my soul and with all my strength and with all my mind'; and, ‘ to Love my neighbor.’
While it is noble to want to provide opportunities for students from low-income, low-performing schools to increase academic performance as a means of breaking the cycles of poverty, vouchers are not the answer.
The Governor’s plan would eliminate public accountability by channeling tax dollars into private schools or home school programs that do not face state-approved academic standards.
Private schools do not publicly report on student achievement and do not meet the public accountability requirements outlined in major federal laws-- including laws which protect students with special needs. Whereas public schools are required to accept all children of all abilities in their district, private schools have the choice.
To be clear, vouchers are an easy, yet ineffective “out” for our legislators-- relieving our state leaders of their responsibility to provide oversight and accountability for public schools as demanded by our state constitution.
In each of the districts that have been targeted as under-performing, there are amazing teachers, amazing principals, incredible students. However, not every school is the same, other factors influence the ability to enhance student performance.
Many studies reveal that student academic performance does not improve by just pulling students from their low-performing district. Instead of removing students and funding from underperforming schools, we should invest more funding to provide training and resources for community development. Partnerships must be developed between community leaders, faith leaders, and school leadership.
We should invest to provide more Social Workers who have the skills to work with families caught in recurring cycles of poverty so that they might gain new skills that will provide new opportunities. A person who is struggling to keep food on their table and their family in housing does not have time to focus on ensuring their child is achieving academically. This effort is working in places like Nashville where a Community schools approach with wrap around care is working.
I believe that my alignment theologically with the United Methodist Church can be attributed to many aspects, but I am grateful for the emphasis on public education found in our Social Principles -
“The United Methodist Church believes that at a time when public education has become a political battleground, the church is called to remember, first and foremost, the well-being of all God’s children. Education is a right of all children and is affirmed by Scripture which calls us to “train children in the way they should go” (Proverbs 22:6). Furthermore, the Social Principles affirm that education “can best be fulfilled through public policies that ensure access for all persons to free public elementary and secondary schools and to post-secondary schools of their choice”
This statement continues to say, “We acknowledge the debate over whether public funds might appropriately be used to remedy the lingering effects of racial injustice in our nation’s educational system. We do not purport to resolve our differences over this issue, but we do affirm our conviction that public funds should be used for public purposes. We also caution that government aid to primary and secondary religious schools raises constitutional problems and could undermine the private schools’ independence and or compromise their religious message.”
We have been fighting this push for many years now, and we will be for years to come.
Therefore we must remain vigilant, we must remain united, we must make our voices heard, and our leaders must listen or be replaced.
There is no line in the Constitution of Tennessee that says that they should “provide for the maintenance, support and eligibility standards of a system of PRIVATE schools,” NO, it says - to “provide for the maintenance, support and eligibility standards of a system of free public schools,”
To be clear, the people pushing this legislation from outside of Tennessee might have more money than we do but they aren’t as connected as we are, they don’t have the ability to vote here like we do, they think they know us but they don’t even want to be in the same room with us, let alone the same zip code.
They pump money into our legislative system attempting to dictate all of the issues that we face especially how we provide the provision of Education for the public good. They desire to dictate how we should live, what we should learn, where we should learn, who we should love, and how we should engage in public discourse. While they work in private influencing our elected officials through threats of loss of elections, or loss of influence in decision making.
We are the ones who make those decisions, we are the ones who decide who gets to represent us here in the General Assembly, and we must be bold enough to stand up to their threats, be bold enough to support those legislators who truly listen to the desires of Tennesseans instead of those who offer to pay for their re-elections.
In closing may we be guided by the simple rules that the founder of Methodism, John Wesley, called us to remember - 1. Do Good, 2. Do No Harm, and 3. Stay In Love with God. As Bishop Rueben Job said, "The rules are simple, but the way is not easy. Only those with great courage will attempt it, and only those with great faith will be able to walk this exciting and demanding way.”
Glen Gaugh, Tennessee Federation for Children
LTE written to the Jackson Sun:
School choice: A worthwhile opportunity
Choice is typically considered to be a good thing. Why is school choice controversial?
With middle school looming large, we were concerned about the quality of education my sixth-grader would receive. We also didn’t feel safe sending him to the middle school in our zone. As a public school graduate, I used to believe public school would meet our children’s needs. But with ludicrous curriculum (or lack of), burdensome testing, and no shared sense of decency, the concerns mounted and the options sank.
We became a homeschool family this school year, but only for our sixth-grade scholar. Our youngest son is still doing well in his public elementary school, and we are optimistic that he is making gains with his current teacher.
These are the choices every family should have the opportunity to make.
I am amazed at those who believe mainstreaming school choice through initiatives like Education Savings Accounts would destroy public schools. If you are truly concerned about student outcomes, stop diverting 50 percent of education dollars from the classroom to administration and administrative salaries. Focus on individual achievement rather than aggregate test scores. Focus on fundamentals.
School choice leads to better outcomes for individual students through higher graduation rates, lower incarceration rates, and higher employment rates. I know it makes it harder for government to measure and politicians to take credit when parents are able to do education in whatever way works best. But in the long run, individual liberty will create a stronger society.
In a gas-lighting piece, Knoxville Focus publisher, Steve Hunley, tries to pull one of the oldest manipulation tricks in the book when he calls Tennessee teachers, "bullies." Typical. Just typical. But we know who the real bully is here.
He calls them a few other choice names too like mooing cows and hogs that love slop.
Anyone who has seen a western movie will be familiar with the predictable stampede; the only difference is this particular stampede will occur in the marble halls of the state capitol. The thundering herd will moo plaintively while the sounds of hooves will echo off the marble walls. While the number locally is insignificant compared to the number of teachers employed, most of these unionists like personal publicity as much as a hog likes slop and will carry signs and protest and shriek it is the end of the civilized world as we know it if the governor’s ESA legislation should pass the Tennessee General Assembly.
It all started when a group of parents, teachers, and community members showed up at the Knox County Republicans' Lincoln Day Dinner to protest Gov. Lee's ESA voucher plan. About 200 people held signs and waved at traffic in front of the venue where Lee was speaking. Hunley took particular offense to a protest sign that referred to Knox County state representative Bill Dunn as a dunce.
Relax, dude, it's a satirical play on words. Don't you have political cartoons in your paper? If you are going to be a newspaper man, you will need to have some understanding of satire.
Hunley was also upset that teachers and school board members travelled to Nashville to meet with legislators and watch the hearings on the ESA voucher bill. Apparently, teachers are supposed to "do what other mortals would do- - - send an email or pick up the telephone to make their views known." Well, maybe we should share a little secret with Mr. Hunley: teaching is way too hard for mere mortals. Our Tennessee teachers are superheroes!! And we applaud them for caring enough about our children to arrange a trip to the Capitol to meet with legislators and watch the debates on the ESA bill.
But we are shaking our heads at poor Mr. Hunley. Doesn't he know that face-to-face communications is far more effective than phone calls and emails? If you are going to be a newspaper man, you will need to realize the importance of attending meetings and personally interviewing people.
And there are a few more things Mr. Hunley needs to know if he is going to be a newspaper man.
First, let's start with getting the facts straight. The information reported in his editorial does not match any of the ESA bill amendments released so far. Vouchers would not be limited to students in failing schools. Instead, ESA gift cards would be available to students in Knox County or any other school district that has at least three schools in the bottom 10%. Students in some of Tennessee's top schools would be eligible for ESA vouchers including Hume-Fogg in Nashville, White Station in Memphis, and Farragut in Knoxville. These are not failing schools. And ESA vouchers would not be limited to districts with failing schools. Under state law, failing schools, known as "priority schools," are those schools in the bottom 5%. This bill could apply to districts that do not have a single failing school.
Yup. If you are going to be a newspaper man, you need to get the facts straight.
Second, it's important to have an understanding of First Amendment rights. People, including teachers, have the right to free speech, assemble peaceably, and petition the government for a redress of grievances. That means these teachers have the right to express their opinions on the ESA voucher bill. They have the right to criticize Rep. Dunn, the Governor, and all other elected officials. They also have the right to carry their signs and gather together on the street.
If you are going to be a newspaper man, you really need to understand the First Amendment. Seriously, it's very important that you know about freedom of the press. So, please go read the First Amendment.
And finally, let's get one thing straight. If you are going to be a newspaper man, you need to maintain some journalistic objectivity. That mean that you do not treat women like objects such as cows and hogs. It means you need to better disguise your apparent disdain towards teachers and women in general.
Momma Bears, we are going to give you the link so if you must, you can read the horrible things written about teachers, parents, and local officials who oppose ESA vouchers. But save yourself some frustration and don't give Mr. Hunley's paper any traffic, don't click the link. If you do read it, use a red pen to fix all the grammatical errors.
Oh yeah, that's another thing. If you are going to be a newspaper man, you need to be grammatically correct.
It's that time of year again!!! And as usual, Momma Bear's in-box is full of requests for information about opting out of TNReady. This year, we have been contacted by a number of homeschool moms who want to opt out.
I home school. I hate these tests. My two oldest tested over a year ago. I had to take them and pick them up every day for two weeks. They tested way above other students, but I already knew they would. My oldest daughter is 15 and will be taking her SAT next year. My younger son is now having to test. Do I have to go through this dog and pony show again or can I "opt-out"? What are the options for home school families.
I homeschool. How do you suggest that I opt out?
My child is homeschooled in XXXXXXX County, TN as a freshman. We have been asked to bring her to the school for testing for 85 minutes (roughly) on 8 different days. With the TNReady fiasco going on, the dates keep getting pushed. Is it too late to opt out? How does this apply to homeschooled students? I chose to homeschool for very specific reasons (i.e., being in charge of my childs education)
I homeschool my son. He has autism, auditory processing disorder, & expressive/receptive language disorder. My son attended a lab school in Kentucky & participated in the standardized testing in 3rd grade. It was torture for him & his aide. We decided to homeschool after being told that the school we were in district for had “issues” with regard to their special education department & their implementation of the IEP. To be honest, my husband, myself, my son’s behaviorist, & another therapist had to rewrite every IEP so that they contained defined, measurable goals instead of ambiguous goals that were written by the special education department. I am located in XXXXXX County, Tennessee. Is there a statute or is there a way to opt out of standardized testing for my son?
Homeschool Momma Bears, here is what the State says about TNReady:
Which got us to thinking...
How will Gov. Lee's ESA voucher program affect homeschooling?
Right now, Tennessee law, as specified above, allows homeschoolers to take standardized assessments administered by a professional testing service instead of TNReady. But the proposed ESA voucher legislation requires participating homeschoolers and private school students to take TNReady in Math and ELA.
We know some of you are probably wondering why the proposed ESA voucher bill omits Social Studies and Science. Well, we think we know the answer to that question. Social Studies and Science are not priorities in Tennessee's common core curriculum. So, the State pretty much sold out it's social studies standards and curriculum to someone with a lot of political clout. You can read the details in our past blog.
Under the proposed ELA voucher bill, homeschoolers accepting the ESA gift card must take TNReady in Math and ELA and there is no provision in the ESA bill which allows those home schoolers to take any other standardized test in place of TNReady. So, is this the beginning of intrusive state regulation of homeschooling?
That is a growing concern among homeschool families nationwide.
Some state homeschool associations are very careful to distinguish between homeschool and ESA "home-based" education where a family enters into a contract with the State to provide education at home.
In Arizona, ESA is separate from homeschooling, which is another legally defined education option in our state. Since ESA students taught at home have a very similar day-to-day experience as homeschooled students, there is often confusion about the distinction between the two student classifications.
As evidenced by increased legislation popping up in various states, there is a significant push nationwide to increase regulation for homeschoolers. AFHE has worked hard since its inception in the early 1980s to remove burdensome regulations that did exist for homeschooling families here in our state. In order to maintain that hard-fought freedom, it is crucial to keep homeschooling separate from taxpayer funds.
What the State funds it must oversee and regulate. This is wise stewardship of our taxpayer dollars—however, with government money comes government strings. One key element that has been a hallmark of Arizona homeschooling for more than three decades is that what we value most is our freedom.
And in Nevada, the homeschool community is also very protective of the distinction between homeschool and those accepting ESA vouchers to educate their children at home.
First and foremost, Nevada parents, who choose to use the ESA program, will NOT be “homeschooling” under NV statute. Two statutes, NRS 392.070(2) and 388D.020 allow parents, who receive NO MONEY from the state, to educate their children free from government control, although educational abuse and neglect statutes do apply as safeguards.
Second, “homeschooling” is legally defined in Nevada Revised Statutes, NRS 385.007(3) differentiating it from “home based education” through the NV-ESA. And while imitation is the best form of flattery, Nevada Homeschool Network (NHN) became alarmed when Senator Hammond introduced an amended version of his original ESA bill in April of 2015 that no one had been able to read prior to the hearing in the NV Senate Education Committee (this seems to be a pattern repeating itself in other states in 2016 and 2017 as ESA bills are being mulled over... but not available for public review).
NHN opposed the bill, SB 302, as introduced due to the Senator’s references to homeschooling in his verbal introduction of the bill. Both public school and homeschool students (but not existing private school students) were to be able to access ESA funding. Further, the Senator’s initial version attempted to use the NV homeschool law as the vehicle for this new program, blurring the distinction between a self-funded homeschool child and a child receiving a “home based” education through the government approved ESA program.
Camel's Nose under the Tent
But others don't like ESA vouchers at all and consider them to be a camel's nose under the tent that allows government regulations to creep into the homeschool environment.
An Indiana homeschool group has this to say about ESA vouchers:
Homeschoolers need to take this to heart whenever a legislator assures our community that ESAs will cause no harm to our liberty. Once the camel’s nose is under the tent, it is very difficult to keep him out.
As we’ve shared with homeschoolers, a new public school system is being built. We first noticed it as we read quotes from early reformers from the 1990’s. The question for homeschoolers who worked so hard to have the liberty to teach their children as they see fit, do you want to be sucked back into the public school system? We’ve seen what has happened to it over the past 50 years. Liberty, once lost, is lost forever. ~ John Adams
A Texas lawyer and homeschool advocate had some sharp words about ESA vouchers:
We grumpy-pants HSLDA lawyers eat, drink, and breathe homeschooling—then we come to work. So why on earth do we oppose these so-called “ESAs”?
First, a closer examination of the name is in order. Why is it called a “savings account”? No one is saving money. The happy-sounding name belies what is really happening. For example, the full title of the “ESA” bill in Texas says, “Senate Bill 3 establishes a state-funded subsidy program called an ‘Education Savings Account.’” In other words, as Joe Biden might say, these so-called savings accounts are literally misnamed. Not to be confused with Coverdell ESAs1, these fake “ESAs” are just the old idea of vouchers from the 1990s, repackaged under another name. The funds in these accounts are not “saved” in any normal sense of the word—they are tax dollars.
And what is a tax dollar? It begins as your dollar, then through the hocus-pocus of representative democracy it becomes the government’s dollar—whether you want it to or not. After passing through various sticky agency fingers it then magically becomes 50 cents deposited in your or someone else’s state-funded voucher—er, “savings account,” to be spent with a debit card.
HSLDA believes it is not the government that is responsible for our children’s education. As a matter of first principles, we believe that parents are responsible, and that the freedom to homeschool has been won because parents took that responsibility—including the financial responsibility. “ESA” vouchers are based on the premise that it is the government’s responsibility to ensure that children are educated and to fund that education.
The homeschooling movement has grown up organically, as hundreds of thousands of parents made a myriad of choices in the best interests of their very own Hunter and Taylor. Innovation, voluntary collaboration, and an entrepreneurial spirit fuel the engine of the homeschooling movement. Not tax dollars.
That sentiment is echoed by the Nevada Homeschool Network:
The Constitutional Home Educators Alliance in Oklahoma expressed their concern over ESA vouchers:
What is an ESA? While the EdChoice sect would like you to believe they are savings accounts, ESA's are nothing more than disguised government vouchers because you cannot contribute personal monies to them and you have little or no control over them. A real ESA or Education Savings Account allows private contributions from parents or family members and is not controlled by the government.
ESAs are different than tax credits, which do not increase government regulations. We are currently working on tax credit legislation for 2019 and hope to have built up a great support for this piece of legislation which will help every family with school-age chilren regardless of the method of education they choose.
After talking with legislators over the past two years, our concerns about the School Choice movement quickly turned from caution to great concern. The thought is that if homeschoolers participate with an ESA program, at the least, they should have to take an End of Instruction exam each year. While participation is voluntary at this point, the influx of new families not familiar with our struggle to remain regulation free, who see nothing negative about taking the government funds and the regulation that accompanies it, could expand the accompanying regulations over into the entire homeschool community. One of the articles below shows just how easily that can happen
Oklahoma has numerous bills introduced each session which will bring ESAs to the state. With the help of HSLDA, we are working to keep home educators excluded from these bill but they still pose a threat to parent-led and directed home education.
Is Gov. Lee turning his back on his base?
Here in Tennessee, we are seeing some strong Conservative advocates that are questioning why Gov. Lee has developed an allegiance to Jeb Bush and Betsy DeVos' ESA voucher plan. Doesn't he understand that many in his base believe that school choice is just a plan to bring all children under the control of the state?
It is all becoming more and more clear....
As my friend Michael Bohr correctly states…
“Parents, who are the first and forever educators of their children, are the only people who hold the right to determine “the best interests of their child. Everyone one else has an agenda that puts their best interests over those of the child and they have done so by taking control of our government. Their hope is that we continue to fight the false battles they lay down before us and forget that we, the parents, are the sole authority in determining the education and upbringing of our children.”
“SCHOOL CHOICE” IS THE MOTHER OF ALL PUBLIC/PRIVATE PARTNERSHIPS, THAT WILL BE THE DEMISE OF EDUCATION IN AMERICA!
What has been written into the 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which is the re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), is NOT local control.
Additionally, Education Savings Accounts (ESA)s are an important part of the federal take-over of education.
Anita Hoge clearly laid it out.....
“Specialized Student Support Services” and “Direct Student Services” mandate equitable services to all private schools, the same as in public schools. This is referred to in the ESEA legislation as “meaningful choice.”
There are specific lists of providers that must be used, as well as, an ombudsman that will oversee compliance in private schools. This is where the mandate will force teachers to identify students as being At-Risk of not meeting College and Career Ready/Common Core as a disability and perform psychological services paid for by IDEA. These interventions are defined as positive behavior intervention and supports, PBIS, multi-tiered system of supports, MTSS, response to intervention, RTI, and early intervening services, EIS, etc.
These interventions are happening NOW because of the Flex Waivers.
By identifying students as At-Risk under Title I, ALL will receive psychological treatment and interventions on your children in private, Catholic, and Christian schools, as well as homeschools (defined as a private school.) THERE WILL BE NO ESCAPE FROM THE COLLEGE AND CAREER READY/COMMON CORE OR THE PSYCHOBABBLE IN THE LEGISLATION. Regular classroom teachers are being trained to identify children who would need services through PBIS, RTI, EIS, & MTSS.
Once EDUCATION SAVING ACCOUNTS (ESA)’s are in full operation, dedicated to each individual student, an individual career pathway meeting College and Career Ready/Common Core soft skills (Grit) interventions and a treatment plan which will be funded by direct student services known as psychobabble. Because these specialized services are defined in the legislation as psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, etc, these services will be mandated. These members of the psych profession will be in a position for MEDICAID TO BE BILLED FOR SPECIALIZED STUDENT SUPPORT SERVICES. This is your meaningful CHOICE. Medicaid is on the scene as mental health wrap around services. Your family and child will be assigned a case manager. This initiates an individual family service plan. The federal government has just walked into your front door.
(THIS ORIGINAL PLAN WAS DRAWN UP UNDER SEC BELL UNDER THE REAGAN ADMINISTRATION UNDER THE NAME “KNOWLEDGE REVOLUTION- NETWORK FOR ALL AMERICANS.” Bell has written extensively about parents not being capable to raise their own children.) https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED351771.pdf
Collierville Superintendent, John Aitken recently spoke out about the Governor's ESA voucher plan. “"Public education is an invaluable part of democracy,' he said, that money could be lost to private institutions that are not held to all the same state standards public schools are held to. 'We’re doing the best we can with limited resources.'”
Mr. A has reason to worry. The voucher plan touted by Governor Lee's administration will likely hit high achieving schools such as those in Collierville the hardest. Despite promises from lawmakers such as Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson (R-Franklin) and House Speaker Glen Casada, also from Williamson County, there will be a devastating impact on successful schools systems including the state's number one district Williamson County and its next door neighbor, Franklin Special School District.
How do we know that?
USA Today recently exposed what are known as "legislative mills" or "bill-making factories." Special interest groups like Betsy DeVos' American Federation for Children hire a team of professionals to write model legislation. Some of the scriveners actually were hired away from their state jobs as bill writers. Once written, the model legislation is then peddled to state lawmakers usually at high end resorts after a night of heavy drinking and carousing. But it can also take place on a fishing trip to Orange Beach, Alabama.
The lawmakers bring the pre-written bills back to their home state and push them through their state legislature. And that is exactly what has happened with the ESA voucher plan. Tennessee is on the verge of adopting a law that is written almost exactly like the laws already enacted in other states. So, we have a glimpse into our future...
In Arizona, the ESA voucher came in like our IEA vouchers for students with special needs. One mom described it as a God-send for her two autistic children. But as the voucher plan expanded to included more and more students, her special needs children were pushed out of the program.
"[S]he realized in retrospect that students with disabilities were used as a Trojan horse to put on the legislative agenda a fringe idea that was part of a much bigger campaign. In the years that followed, 19 other states debated 93 nearly identical proposals based on model legislation. They became law in Florida, Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina and Tennessee.
"Every single, little expansion, if you look at who's behind it, it is the people that want to get that door kicked open for private religious education," Edwards said. "All we (families with disabled students) are was the way for them to crack open the door.”
So what happens when the voucher law is expanded?
It begins to encroach into the area of high achieving public school districts. In Arizona, more than 75% of the money pulled out of public schools for their ESA program "came from districts with an "A" or "B" rating." "By contrast, only 4% of the money came from school districts rated "D" or lower." And that makes sense. Impoverished families in low achieving school districts have limited means to pay tuition beyond the ESA voucher amount. They have limited access to transportation. And their children may not fit in with the culture of affluent or religious private schools.
So, why would happy students leave their successful public schools?
Ask a Momma Bear and we will tell you….
Public school parents will not use ESA vouchers to escape their beloved neighborhood schools but they will use them to escape the heavy handed state regulations that push ridiculous common core curriculum and burdensome testing. These things are hurting our children. And special interest groups looking to profit on education are going to market ESA gift cards as a way to escape common core and abusive testing.
Every year, we receive messages from unhappy parents about state testing:
My daughter is a sophomore in XXXXXX County, she has been pulled out of her Yearbook class (study hall) because she scored a 21 on the RTI test last year. She was in Honors English and finished with a 89 grade. I am not sure what the deal is but the teacher is giving her grief about this test and is making her go take more tests with classmates that are failing students. I am a little worried because the teacher will not reach out to me and is rude to my child each day. The teacher told my daughter she would send an email out to the staff and they would discuss if she will be eligible to continue Yearbook for she will be testing; she could only get out if she made 3 solid 100s on the tests in a row. My daughter is a SOLID A/B student. So what part of NOT failing does the teacher NOT understand. Also, from what I understand, this is for English and my daughter is NOT even in an English class this semester!! Can we say all screwed up?? Can you please help me see what I am missing with this situation?
The (sort of) short version of our story is that I am a pediatrician. My husband taught Elementary school for 21 years in TN before being a stay at home dad for the last 2 years. We have 4 children, one of whom has Down syndrome. Our child with Down syndrome has too high of an IQ to opt out of regular testing. We had planned as parents to opt her out because we felt it wasn't a good measure and would just re-emphasize her language disability. The state basically told us it was illegal to opt her out. We could have not signed her IEP, but then we would have had to go through due process and we are really happy with our school system and especially the services she is getting at school so we didn't want to go that route. Plus, it would only benefit her and not the thousands of other kids taking this test! We have met with State Senator Jon Lundberg. He basically said he would advocate to get scores uncoupled from grades and teacher evaluations and he was shocked at the number of hours that they will be testing with TNReady. XXXXXX will be testing for 7.7 hours and our middle schooler for 9 hours. My pediatric board exam is 9 hours (that is after 3 years of 50-60 hours a week training! Needless to say we are pretty unhappy with the state. Our next meeting will hopefully be with the president of the state school board. But we wanted to reach out to you, first to share our story and also to get your thoughts and any other people you feel like we should meet with. Thanks!
I am in Sumner County. We moved here for the schools. I thought, we had the best year last year at the new elementary school XXXXXXX in Hendersonville, TN. I found this website while googling various things about standardized based grading. My son is in 2nd grade and this was forced on us without any prior notice. We found out at Meet the Teacher night well into the school year. Are you working on a post about how the SBG is aligned to Common Core (re-branded as Tennessee Standards although they deny this at the SCBOE) We have met for over an hour with his Teacher, then the Principal and finally yesterday with the 2 Instruction Coordinators at the BOE. I feel like yesterday all i did was hand them every logical and valid reason why any person would oppose standardized based grading and the educational atmosphere, so that they can refute them with their canned answers.
But upset parents aren't the only ones who email us. We also receive emails from whistle-blower teachers who give us the inside story about state requirements. Two years ago, one whistle-blower told us about how the new Tennessee Social Studies standards came into being. Now, things are beginning to make sense. Suddenly, it is clear why Governor Lee'e education plan excludes private schools accepting ESA gift cards from teaching or testing on Tennessee Social Studies standards.
Read what an anonymous teacher told us in 2017:
"I really appreciate your hard work and efforts at protecting students and schools from all of the political assaults that are going on in our state currently. I know that you typically focus on assessment, but I wondered if you are aware of what is currently going on with Tennessee Social Studies Standards?
A committee of history teachers selected by the state board met this summer, and made fantastic revisions to the standards. The revisions went through a rigorous round of public feedback, and they are now in the hands of a Standards Review Committee that was appointed by Governor Haslam, the out-going Lieutenant Governor Ramsey, and Secretary of State Hargett.
This committee has a member with a glaring conflict of interest. Bill Carey owns TNhistoryforkids.org, and he makes his living by selling booklets that he writes about Tennessee History to school systems and teachers. The booklets are of poor quality, and they generally sell from $2-$5 a piece. He is serving on the SRC, having been appointed by Ron Ramsey, who is on the TNHistoryforkids.org board of directors. At today's SRC committee meeting, the high school standards were up for revision.
High School U.S. History was intensely revised this summer because there are currently 112 standards and over 600 individual strands of content. This means that teachers literally only have five minutes per strand of content to teach if they never had any interruptions in instruction. Many of these strands of content are TN History trivia items, such as a labor strike in Coal Creek in the late 1800s, and a socialist commune in Monteagle in the 1950s that MLK and Rosa Parks briefly visited before they rose to prominence.
Bill Carey successfully used his political influence, his position as a writer for Tennessee magazine, and a letter from the new Lieutenant Governor McNally to reinsert all these items. He will gain financially from this, and teachers will lose valuable class-time teaching the material because it will be assessed on state assessments. In addition, almost the only place you can find information on Coal Creek in particular, but several of the other trivia items is by purchasing books from Bill Carey. School systems and teachers will waste hundreds of thousands of dollars. Like I said, I know this isn't really what this blog is designed for, but I thought you might want to look into it. The taxpayers, the social studies teachers in 3-12, and especially the students are losing because of one man's financial gain and corruption."
We have put the pieces together. We know that powerful people gained access to our state legislators to burden public schools with outrageous regulations and harmful practices. We know our teachers are leaving in droves. And we know that that the powers-that-be want affluent students to leave too. We know that this is the plan to kill public education.
Back in 2015, we reported on how those nasty astro-turf groups packed the House during the Individualized Education Account (IEA) Voucher bill hearing with their yellow-scarf-wearing-probably-paid-shills begging the legislators to help their children.
Remember Warrior Mom?
So, Warrior Mom, Dusty Webb, (really? that's her name?) begged Tennessee legislators to pass the IEA voucher bill in 2015. "I need your money," the ringer for Michelle Rhee's Students First (now known as TennesseeCAN) told the House Instruction & Programs Education Committee. Webb wanted Tennessee taxpayers to foot the bill for her son, Josh's private school education at Bachman Academy, a school that offered horseback riding and fishing ponds.
Coincidentally, Bachman Academy with the help of the national School Choice Week group hosted a school-choice event around that same time where Headmaster, Mark Frizzell called public education "a mess" as he urged the state legislature to fund private schools.
The IEA voucher bill passed in 2015 thanks to the staged efforts of Warrior Mom, Headmaster Frizzell, and the faux parent organizations. But how much did Josh really benefit from IEA? Only a handful of students received IEA vouchers that first year and less than 150 students statewide receive them now. Parents have to jump through an enormous amount of hoops to apply for the program and there is a lot a bureaucracy to stay enrolled.
So, what about Josh? The IEA program did not go into effect until January, 2017, nearly two years after Warrior Mom begged for her son's tuition voucher. Then, just a few month after IEAs became available, Josh's school, Bachman Academy suddenly closed and sold its property. Yup, the school, that was supposed to save Josh from the horrors of public education, kicked him to the curb within a few months. Student enrollment at Bachman Academy had dwindled down to just 21 pupils while the school continued to employ 30 faculty members according to this news report. And to think, the Headmaster called public schools a mess. Seriously?
Again, what about Josh? Well, if Warrior Mom has an IEA voucher, she can only use it at two schools in Tennessee. That's right, TDOE has only approved two high schools for IEAs: The King's Daughter's School and Silverdale Baptist Academy. You can see the full list of approved schools here. Hint: there are only 5 in the entire state. None in Nashville. None in Knoxville. Only a preschool in Memphis. So much for helping the inner-city children.
The IEA experiment proves what we already know…..using public school dollars to prop up insolvent private schools is a financial disaster. The private schools close anyway leaving students displaced. And public schools are out their BEP money. And that's exactly what happened with Warrior Mom's IEA voucher.
Time for Lawmakers to hear from Real Parents, Real Teachers
Our legislators need to hear from us. Unlike out-of-state lobbyists and paid shills who pushed through the IEA voucher bill in 2015, we are real parents, real taxpayers and real voters!!
We need to be heard this time around!! So, gas up the minivans, pack some snacks, and bring the kids, Momma Bears, it's time for us to ROAR!!!
We are taking a road trip to Nashville this week so our voices will be heard at the state Capitol.
Tuesday, April 9— Rally & Press Conference at Noon
On Tuesday, April 9th, a rally will take place at noon then a press conference will be held at 12:30. All events will be in Legislative Plaza outside the State Capitol. Come and join the fun!! Show your support for public education and let lawmakers know that we oppose the ESA voucher bill (HB939/SB795). We recommend that you carpool if at all possible since parking is hard to find in downtown Nashville. Check out this interactive map for parking lots.
Wednesday, April 10— Attend Sub-Committee Voucher Vote
On Wednesday, April 10th, the ESA voucher bill will be heard by the House Finance, Ways, and Means Sub-Committee in the Cordell Hull Building, House Hearing Room 3 at 11:00am. It is open to the public and we encourage you to attend. You may park in the TEA parking lot and catch a shuttle to the Capitol. TEA Address is 801 2nd Ave N, Nashville, TN 37201
No Time for a Road Trip? No Problem.
Hey, we understand. It's hard for Momma Bears to drop everything and go to Nashville. But you can still make your voice heard. How?
Call the Governor's Office at (615) 741-2001 and tell them that you don't want ESA vouchers in Tennessee. And tell them that you are a Momma Bear!!! Need a script? We got you….
Hello, I am ___________________________________ and I live in __________________________________. Please let the Governor know that this momma bear loves public schools and does not support school vouchers. I will urge my state legislators to vote against the ESA voucher bill. Thank you for taking my call.
Then, e-mail the members of the House Finance, Ways, and Means Sub-Committee and the Senate Education Committee. Tell them to vote NO on HB939/SB795. Explain that Article XI, Section 12 of the Tennessee Constitution requires them to provide for the maintenance and support of a system of free public schools. Let them know that you strongly object to any legislation that will erode support for our public schools especially the ESA voucher bill that takes away public school funding and places that money into the hands of private schools. Remind them that you are a Momma Bear who votes!!
We expect there will be more events planned as we head towards a floor vote. So stay tuned to Momma Bears!!
This is a simple, yet effective, recipe on how to make teachers and parents reach a boiling point.
WARNING: The results can be dangerous, so proceed with caution. Seriously, many Legislators have lost their jobs by making this recipe.
1 Governor who wants to privatize public education
1 Commissioner of Education who wants to privatize and profit from public education
33 Senators (you won't need them all)
99 State Representatives (you won't need them all, but you'll need to strong-arm enough to get a majority)
1,817 TN public schools
993,496 or so TN students + their parents and teachers
1). Using a very sharp knife, carve out funding for public schools: Underfund public schools every year. Definitely slice out pay increases for teachers. (Besides, those teachers don't deserve it after they keep complaining about having to buy their own classroom supplies. What crybabies!)
2). Using a meat tenderizer, pound repeatedly on public schools until they are worn thin: Suck up their time with secretive, problem-laden, unhelpful standardized tests that don't work, and then tie their school performance and jobs to those tests. Also, create unfunded mandates that public schools must pay for. Force them purchase new curriculum to align with bogus common core standards, buy expensive practice tests, costly RTI materials, and computers to give tests on. Whatever you do, never allow the schools to be fully funded because this will make the public schools thrive, and you do not want healthy public schools for this recipe. You need them stretched thin.
3). Mix it up: This step is very important. Do not skip it. Legislators, follow the advice of out-of-state lobbyists. Do exactly what they say. When they tell you to vote to underfund schools, do it. When they tell you to vote for vouchers or "education savings accounts," don't question where the funding will come from, who will profit from it, or how they have failed miserably in other states... just shut up and vote yes. When they tell you to vote to create a charter authorizing board appointed by the Governor that will take away local control, just do it. These copycat ALEC bills that privatize public education at the expense of their children's public schools are the crucial ingredients to piss parents and teachers off.
4). Increase the temperature: While the public schools are stewing over a lack of money, generously give their tax dollars to charter and private schools. Open those schools everywhere... the sky is the limit! That vacant gas station by the interstate? That a prime location for a charter school to pop up! The basement of a church that desperately needs money to survive? Bingo! A school paying rent to the church is the solution! The fact that the children will get a substandard, segregated education doesn't matter. You will probably have to deal with pesky elected school board members who are upset over this, but swat them away like mosquitoes. Now that the charter authorizer and voucher bills from Step 3 are in effect, you have more power than them.
5). Add sauce: When people realize that public school students are being boiled alive like frogs in a pot, then create distractions. Pour it on thick... Tell them this is a "windfall" for public schools (when you know it is the opposite). Tell them you are giving them "choices" (even though you are taking away their top choice of healthy public schools). Ask them which seasoning they'd choose to have poured in their pot. Some popular seasonings are: "Cheesy charter," "Pickled private school," and "Zesty Testy." Generously sprinkle on patronizing phrases to increase the flavor. Honestly, you can't add too much, the media will eat it up.
6). If the parents & teachers still seem tough, increase the temperature to speed up the process.
7). Serve on a silver platter: Sit back and watch the you know what hit the fan.
Enjoy! Bon Appetit!
This recipe was a blue ribbon winner in Arizona, Oklahoma, Colorado, West Virginia, Oakland, and Kentucky. After following this recipe, the parents and teachers in those states jumped out of the pot like grease out of a hot frying pan! When they realized that politicians were cooking their children's public school, they were angrier than hornets! They told their friends, which only added more fuel to the fire. The results were not pretty for politicians.
What happened? I followed the recipe exactly!
First, parents and teachers started calling and emailing their elected officials. That little indigestion was easy enough to ignore. But then they started showing up at their offices at the capitol. Darnit. Gotta wear blinders and earplugs to work for a bit. Awwww naaawww, the those pesky teachers and parents had the nerve to work together and all show up on the same day! Gosh durnit, those teachers were supposed to be in their underfunded classrooms, but they used their sick and personal days.
Now some might call this action of not going to work (and instead gathering with your co-workers while holding signs at a place where politicians are) a "strike." But everyone knows strikes aren't legal in Tennessee since legislators made TN a "Right to Work" state, which really means "Those teachers better get Right back to Work and stop complaining!" But you know what? Other states also have that same law, and that didn't stop those teachers from doing some pretty darn effective "Sick Outs." Some school districts even had to cancel school because so many teachers were "sick" over their legislators' actions. Be careful... It is really contagious. And TN teachers and parents are all catching it. Must be something in the water in Tennessee...
It is literally boiling over in Tennessee right now:
Honestly, we hope you've caught this "sick out" too, by reading this blog. Follow Momma Bears on Facebook, and kindly "Share the Bear" by sharing our blog. Infect your friends to make them "sick," too. Oh, and be sure to politely pester your politicians because persistent parents can often pressure their politicians to do the right thing knowing they need your vote to keep their jobs.
Disclaimer: We are volunteers. We are not affiliated with any political party or political organization. We are not being paid to blog, protest, or contact our legislators. No funding from anyone went into this blog or website.
Just some moms who realize their children's public school systems in TN, as well as public schools across the country, have major threats to their survival. We research, we write, we share, and we advocate.