NOT EXACTLY HALCYON DAYS
“But I am a patient man. I can wait for hours in the rain.”
― Patrick Modiano, Dora Bruder
Hard to believe, that it is only the end of April, and I'm already ready for this year to come to a close. It's been a hard year, one that shows no signs of getting easier.
The COVID years obviously came with their own challenges, but this new normal is bringing it in full monty. and I'm struggling to adapt. I suspect I'm not alone.
Our educators and our students are exhausted and exasperated, as too many bureaucrats and privateers are using the pandemic to follow the edict of former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, "You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that is it's an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before."
I'll add my quote in response, "Just because you can, doesn't mean you should."
Imagine again if you went to the doctor after being mugged, and he immediately focused on your cholesterol, instead of treating the injuries recently incurred. Hey, cholesterol will kill you, and there was that cute pharmacy rep in last week. Your abrasions will eventually heal regardless of what the doctor does, but if he can get in on the action of that new drug...they'll write it up in the trades, and who knows, he may make a buck himself. That's what we are continually doing with our schools right now,
Trying to take advantage of a crisis we haven't even fully diagnosed yet.
We are doing this with impunity and little concern for those directly affected. It's like crazy time has become the new normal. Every day is like a new episode of the old MTV show, "Jackass". And I'm not even talking about the subjects that are driving headlines. That's a whole another can of worms.
Just this week I heard that the Tennessee Board of Education's policy advisor Amy Owen is leaving to take a position with the organization led by Jeb Bush - ExcellinEducation. One can only imagine that Jeb and his bunch saw the profit margins for SCORE and Ed Trust and decided they needed a bigger footprint in Tennessee.
With Owen, they are getting a respected policy advisor with experience working on the state's Educator Prep report Card. One that will provide them with increased access. Just out of curiosity, how is it that non-profits headquartered outside Tennessee have no problem finding talent to staff their leadership positions, while the TNDOE continually pulls from outside of Tennessee?
The latest example is the department's new COO Shannon Gordon. Gordon quietly started back in December after spending nearly 25 years in Wisconsin with the Milwaukee and Racine school districts. I'm trying to remember what Milwaukee has that Governor Lee wants...oh yea...vouchers. Probably just a coincidence.
But back to our friends at ExcellinEd. Yep, that's that the same Foundation for Excellence in Education that signed the TNDOE's recently released list of 100+ local leaders who endorse TISA. The press release proclaims the grandeur of TISA by referring to it as a Tennessee creation,
“Thanks to thousands of Tennesseans sharing their hopes and dreams for the future of public education in our state, the proposed student-based public school funding formula, the TISA, is reflective of Tennessee’s values and focuses on the needs of each individual student,” said Tennessee Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn. “Tennessee has an historic opportunity to transform the way we fund public schools and put the future of our students first with the Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement.”
Funny, I didn't know Jeb Bush bought a house in Mt. Juliet or was it Leiper's Fork? Either way, there is his signature among the so-called local leaders. His support probably doesn't have anything to do with the ExcellinEd receiving $660K from the Gates Foundation, "To conduct research and create state-focused financial models to explore opportunities for a weighted student funding model". Nor the $97K they took in August 'To support focused studies of perspectives on K-12 funding equity."
The amount of money that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has invested in reforming education finance in Tennessee is astronomical. Some people might be asking why, but nobody provides the answer. It seems as long as the checks cash, we are perfectly willing to look the other way and pretend it doesn't matter.
The Sycamore Institute did defend its acceptance of a $100K grant from the Gates Foundation in a Tennessee Lookout article,
But Brian Straessle with Sycamore said the description on the Gates website is an “inaccurate reflection of the actual work.” He pointed out the project description was made months before anyone knew Gov. Lee would push this legislation.
“Anyone familiar with our work knows Sycamore’s analysis is always neutral and impartial,” he said in an email.
The award was given in September, and the Governor's effort was kicked off in October. Is Straessi really suggesting that Lee launched a venture of this magnitude without at least 6 months of preparation? I would also add that it's usually the people giving the money that gets to define what they are giving it for, and if you don't like the description, don't take the money.
TISA continues to move forward in the General Assembly, just not at the pace described by House majority leader William Lamberth. There have been rumors circulating that TISA is being used as a political pawn in a game of chicken with Governor Lee over the recently passed "Truth in Sentencing Bill".
In a nutshell, Lee doesn't like it - he considers prison reform as a major plank in his future run for president - while Lamberth wants to appear tough on crime, making this legislation a key play in his future run for Governor. That puts the two at cross purposes. So speculation is that Lamberth is using TISA as leverage to prevent Lee from vetoing his legislation, sorta a pass mine and I'll pass yours.
The Lookout pressed Lamberth about this and he demurred,
“The (K-12 funding) bill is moving rapidly through the legislative process, and I anticipate passage sometime in the next week or two,” said Lamberth, a Portland Republican. “So there’s nothing holding that up. … We have neither slowed it down nor sped it up.”
Hmmm...rapidly is not how I would describe it. Seeing as we are heading into the final week of session and it still hasn't made it to either floor yet. Take into consideration that the two legislative bodies are likely to pass separate versions requiring reconciliation, And who wants to stick around for that? Yea, TISA is advancing but in a fashion more like an anteater than a gazelle.
While it remains a likely proposition, TISA is far from a done deal.
My favorite game of late is to ask stakeholders why the plan's proposed weight of 25% for poverty is included.
Few can give me a good answer, mumbling and fumbling for a few minutes before offering that it just costs more to educate kids who live in poverty.
"How?", I answer, "Do they need different teachers? Do they need different materials? Maybe they need different buses? What additional expenses are being incurred when educating kids in poverty?"
After some more fumbling and bumbling, they get around to mentioning wrap-around services and nutrition. Those are legitimate concerns but completely separate from education funding. Much of the nutritional cost could be taken from federal money or separate direct funding.
Are only the kids who qualify for direct funding in need of additional funding for wrap-around services and additional sources of nutrition? I'd argue differently.
Let's be clear, the prevalence of child poverty is so widespread that it impacts all kids, either directly or indirectly. So take the wight out, apply the 25% to the base for every child, and direct fund nutrition and other wrap-around services. It's pretty simple.
Before moving on, let's look at funding for teacher salaries. Under the Governor's proposed model, legislators can't give teachers a raise without giving all of the unique learners a raise, why? Why not make teacher salaries direct funded? TISA is already making tutors direct funded, why not switch the two out? Include tutoring in the base - because all students could benefit from tutoring - and make teacher salaries directly funded?
One thing that did pass as part of the Governor's annual budget was $25.5 million dollars for summer learning camps for COVID-19 learning loss? That's a lot of cabbage for something that should already be covered by ESSER funds. Remember that historic infusion of cash?
I would also raise the question of, who's attending these camps? Registration in summer school is not exactly booming and is in high demand. I'm sure that MNPS will soon once again extend the deadline to enroll for this year, never a sign of high demand. Attendance at these camps, while it varies in different counties, remains spotty at best. I suspect that most of that $25 million will end up in the pocket of private companies.
These are just a few examples of the insanity being brought forth by 2022. And yes, much of this existed prior to this year, but it just seems as if 2022 has acerbated it all.
Maybe we just have to ride this out and 2023 will become the year of reason.
Commissioner Scwinn's annual ethics reports are always an interesting affair. As required by all members of the Governor's cabinet, every April she declares a financial sheet that is supposed to list all household income for the previous year. In the past, she listed income from both her charter school in California and her husband's employer, both are omitted this year. This raises some questions, chief among them being, where is Paul Schwinn employed? Previously he was with TNTP.
Equally interesting is the lack of investments listed. Ms. Schwinn has been very successful financially, are we to believe that none of that money has been invested? Consider me skeptical.
Nothing screams press opportunity quite like a "Grow Your Own" program announcement. This week, David Lipscomb and MNPS got together to announce a new program that would allow for students to become teachers at their HS alma mater, Per The Tennessean,
The Leading and Innovating for Future Teachers (LIFT) program will provide 10 full-ride scholarships annually to Antioch students who want to become teachers. It will also come with a job through early contracts with the school district.
Sounds great and get all warm and mushy talking about it. But the devil is in the details, and what we are talking about here is a handful of candidates possibly being available 5 years from now, or longer. It's a wonderful initiative but not nearly enough to meet the needs of a workforce that is rapidly shrinking.
But hey, Candice McQueen looked good in The Tennessean.
Speaking of crazy days, I guess sitting board members endorsing the opponent of a fellow sitting board member in an upcoming election is now a thing - at least in MNPS. Six board members signed a letter endorsing Democratic candidate Berthena Nabaa-McKinney,
"As current school board members, we know firsthand the importance of having board colleagues who understand the unique strengths and opportunities for MNPS," the board members wrote in a statement. "We previously worked with Dr. B when she last served on the board and in her time there, she was a fierce advocate for the Donelson, Hermitage, and Old Hickory communities."
There is a lot of room for criticizing Board member John Little, but endorsing a candidate opposing a fellow board member doesn't leave a good taste in my mouth and frankly, sets a lousy precedent. Imagine if former board member Mary Pierce had publically endorsed Jackson Miller in his race against Will Pinkston? Just saying.
Wonder if anyone in Nashville will make the connection between MNPS Board Member Gini Pupo-Walker-Walker's endorsement of challengers Erin O'Hara and Nabaa-McKinney and her endorsement of TISA despite the funding formula receiving opposition from Nashville's elected officials and MNPS leadership. Nah...that doesn't matter.
Apparently, next year's Nashville election for Mayor will include a lot more eye candy than the last go around. The debonair Hal Cato has already given signs of running, and now Matt Whitshire is indicating a desire. It should prove interesting, as odds on Mayor Cooper retaining his seat aren't running high.
Nashville Public Radio is taking a look at how despite this year's school board races being a partisan affair, some are rejecting party identification. One person running under the party moniker in the Williamson County School Board race is Eric Welch. At the risk of offending some, I like Welch. He seldom tells you something just because you want to hear it, and at times I find myself questioning his reasoning, but with me at least, he's always been open and knowledgable. Which is about all I ask from anyone. Let's primary day brings.
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