Williamson Inc. held a Public Affairs Roundtable on Friday, 1/29. It was facilitated by Dave Crouch and Williamson Inc. President and CEO Matt Largen and attended by Senator Jack Johnson and Reps. Glen Casada and Charles Sargent. Rep. Jeremy Durham did not attend.
We urge you to watch the video yourself!
The discussion on education starts at 17:18.
Facilitator Dave Crouch asked about the voucher bill that just passed out of the House finance committee, is headed to the floor next week, and has already passed the Senate. Crouch noted that the bill had been opposed by “every school district in the state” and though it was targeted to “failing schools,” it could have a broader impact:
DAVE CROUCH (moderator): [I] understand that it is targeted toward failing school districts, primarily Memphis. And uh it had a clause in there that if there are any unused vouchers in those failing school district counties I guess you would say, the remainder may be awarded to students who reside in a district that contains at least one school in the bottom 5% of schools… so that would be a lot more than four metropolitan districts in the state. Is that not right?
JACK JOHNSON: No. That’s not right. And I’m sorry I’m going to get on a bit of a soap box here. There is a lot of misinformation out there about this voucher bill. And there are some forces out there—some right here in Williamson County—that just have a philosophical opposition to vouchers in any situation. And they’re aggressively opposing the bill and either intentionally or unintentionally they’re spreading some false information. This is a very, very narrow voucher bill.
Fact Check: Crouch was correct and is referring to section 49-1-1208 (b) of the bill. Read the text yourself:
In any application period, if, after all possible matches of eligible students with participating schools have been made, the number of scholarships awarded does not meet the number of scholarships available under this part, the remaining scholarships may be awarded to students who reside in an LEA that contains at least one (1) school in the bottom five percent (5%) of schools in overall achievement as determined by the performance standards and other criteria set by the state board and otherwise meet all other eligibility requirements as set forth in § 49-1-1202(2).
Johnson stated that vouchers are not the only thing the legislature is doing for education:
This is not the only thing we’re doing by the way with regards to failing schools. We have Achievement School District, we have the teacher accountability measures we’ve put into place, we’ve had teacher, school system accountability measures that we have put in place.
Johnson on the support from affected districts:
The Governor supports this proposal. It passed overwhelmingly in the Senate. When it makes it to the House floor it will pass overwhelmingly there as well with support from legislators who represent those school systems.
Fact Check: In the House finance committee last week, every member from Memphis and Nashville voted against the voucher bill except for Steve McManus from suburban Cordova.
Yes on HB 1049No on HB 1049Memphis
(McManus – $4,000*)
(Camper, Cooper, Miller)Nashville
(Dunn – $5,500*)
(McCormick – $18,750*)
* Contributions from pro-voucher groups, StudentsFirst and American Federation for Children, since 2011. Williamson County reps: Sargent $20,500. Durham $16,950. Casada $9,000.
Companion bill SB 0999 passed 23-9-1 the full floor of the Senate on 3/30/15. While the vote was overwhelmingly in favor of the voucher bill, the results were mixed among the cities actually affected by the bill.
Yes on SB 0999No on SB 0999Memphis
(Dickerson – $28,500*)
* Contributions from pro-voucher groups, StudentsFirst and American Federation for Children, since 2011. Williamson County State Senator Jack Johnson $4,500.
Sargent on a 53% dropout rate at a school in Memphis:
We are throwing a generation of children away. And if I look at that 53 that did not graduate or 530 that are not graduating… You know that they are going to be on food stamps. They’re going to be on welfare for the next 47 years. What is that costing the State of Tennessee? And we have to do… we have to find… and I’m not saying that this is the answer, if it’s not the answer 3-5 years from now, we do something else. But if this is the answer for say 20% of those children, that, if i can help 106 children… and this is a problem we’ve had and no one has wanted to address it. Former governors have not wanted to address this problem. We sit here with the best school system. The Directors of Schools throughout the state… they have not wanted to address this problem.
Crouch also referred to Rep. Butt’s Bill regarding the teaching of religion in K-8:
DAVE CROUCH (moderator): The bill specifically says that our public schools are not allowed to teach any So we’re saying not allowed to teach any religion in classes until high school and then that obviously no religion can be… it can’t be biased toward one religion or another. So, and there seems to be a lot of traction to push that bill through. So what you’re saying is that we’re not going to allow our public school teachers to teach religion at all in elementary schools but we’re going to allow our kids’ parents to send them to a Christian school somewhere that’s going to teach religion every day and use state money to do it. Is that right?
GLEN CASADA: Just because a bill is filed doesn’t mean it will move. There was a bill that would do that. I have had a meeting with that member and the DOE and i think what we will come up with is something that the Department of Education of the State of Tennessee approves, and I think everyone in this room will find it logical. It does not ban the teaching of religion in schools. We are all putting that together as we speak.
DAVE CROUCH: So that bill’s not going anywhere in its current form.
GLEN CASADA: You may see an amendment that makes it very palatable to the Chairman of Education [sic] and to the Department of Education.
DAVE CROUCH: There seems to be a little inconsistency there… from the same side of the caucus there.
GLEN CASADA: Dave, let me warn you. There’s some bills you might wanna wait before you read them because they scare me. [laughing]
On transparency and accountability for voucher-funded schools:
MATT LARGEN: So, my follow up question on the voucher bill specifically is will the accountability and the transparency be the same as it is currently in the public schools if this goes through? [27:07]
JACK JOHNSON: The whole reason to do this voucher program and keep it as narrow as it is—there are members out there, not many members and certainly none of us, who would support a much more broad voucher program. I think this is the right way to go. It’s very narrow—5%, 5000 I think it is capped at 5000. Out of six and a half million people, we’re going to start a program with 5000 vouchers. Quite frankly, I think we’re spending a lot of time and energy here in Williamson County worrying about something when we’ve got much bigger fish to try. [27:40] But… this very narrow program… one of the reasons it is so narrow is so… it’s a pilot program specifically. I was asked this questions previously at a school board retreat.., these 5000 vouchers are going to get more scrutiny than anyone else in the state because we want to see how it works. We know what other states have done, and we’ve seen some tremendous success in some other states with failing schools. We’ve seen some voucher programs in other states that haven’t worked very well. So we want to see how it will work in Tennessee.
Fact check on numbers and “pilot” status: This is not described as a pilot. It affects 20,000 kids in the fourth year of the program. The bill has no provisions for monitoring and evaluation.
49-1-1207 (a) The total number of scholarships awarded statewide under this part shall be limited as follows:
(1) For the 2015–2016 school year, the department shall award no more than five thousand (5,000) scholarships;
(2) For the 2016–2017 school year, the department shall award no more than seven thousand five hundred (7,500) scholarships;
(3) For the 2017–2018 school year, the department shall award no more than ten thousand (10,000) scholarships; and – 10 – 002934
(4) For the 2018–2019 school year and thereafter, the department shall award no more than twenty thousand (20,000) scholarships.
Fact check on transparency and accountability: Voucher schools would not be required to take TNReady. The finance committee refused to consider an amendment to require the voucher recipient school to administer the same standardized tests that are required by the state and LEA.
The bill actually says this: 49-1-1203 (4) Annually administer to scholarship students state assessments as provided in part 6 of this chapter or nationally recognized norm-referenced tests, approved by the state board, that measure educational progress represented by a value-added assessment system developed pursuant to part 6 of this chapter;
Casada on support in his District 63:
I don’t know what the chamber survey is, but I surveyed this, so the eastern third of the county, my house district. Over 50% support vouchers. And if you narrow it down just to the bottom 5% it becomes… this is a popular thing not only in the state and with the governor but with Williamson County. [Ends 29:34]
Fact check on the 2016 District 63 survey: There are no questions about vouchers. Questions 9 and 10 are about charter schools.
Note that the language about vouchers was similar at last year’s legislative roundtable.