A Messy Fight In Tennessee Over Volkswagen’s Union Vote

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Why are elected officials, big players in Tennessee politics, interfering with the union vote at Volkswagon?

There are some questions about whether or not recent statements, especially from Sen. Bob Corker, are appropriate.

From the Chicago Tribune:

Another labor expert, Harley Shaiken of the University of California-Berkeley, said, “The senator’s comments amount to economic intimidation that undermines the whole nature of union representation elections.”

Shaiken often advises UAW officials.

“If the senator’s statement doesn’t violate the letter of the law, it certainly violates the spirit of the law,” Shaiken said.

UAW REACTION

Gary Casteel, UAW regional director for a 12-state area that includes Tennessee, said on Wednesday night, “Corker’s statement is in direct contradiction to Volkswagen’s statements.

“They have specifically said that this vote will have no bearing on the decision of where to place the new product.”

In the past, Casteel has said that Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant, opened in 2011, needs a second product to survive. It has built the compact Passat sedan since it opened.

The plant has about 1,550 Volkswagen workers eligible to vote in the election, which is supervised by the National Labor Relations Board.

Pro- and anti-UAW workers said they were not sure if snowy weather will affect turnout for the vote, which ends on Friday when the plant does not produce cars.

.There seems to be more to this story than what appears, and when Sen. Bo Watson cites that incentives could be pulled by state government, it just gets, what is the word … weirder.

Tennessee Democrats are hitting back and held a press conference earlier this week. (subscription)

House Democrats expressed astonishment Monday that Gov. Bill Haslam and other Tennessee Republicans would threaten to pull economic incentives for Volkswagen if its Chattanooga factory seeks union representation for its workers.

“It’s almost unprecedented in this country,” said Mike Turner, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. “This is a very bad precedent to set.”

Turner and other Democratic lawmakers called a press conference Monday to say they were “stunned” that Republicans in government would attempt to interfere with agreements made involving private businesses. They said they feared the move would dissuade future businesses from coming to Tennessee.

I guess my question is why would the GOP pick a very public fight that has caught the attention of the national media with an international company that has brought 1,500 jobs to east Tennessee?

And Autoegocrat has more at Left Wing Cracker.

First of all, company unions were outlawed in the United States in 1935. You might expect a U.S. senator to know that already, but in Corker’s case you would be wrong. Volkswagen might also expect a U.S. lawmaker who is presuming to tell them how to do business in Tennessee would be conversant in the relevant laws and statutes, and they would also be wrong.

Secondly, BMW has done no such thing, for the reason outlined above: it would be illegal. Let me reiterate that Senator Corker told a reporter that a company operating in the United States was conducting its business in violation of the law. When asked about this, Corker responded:

It’s not illegal. As a matter of fact, I don’t want to debate this, because this is a debate for lawyers, but I believe that it’s easier to create a German-style works council without a union.Gee, if only the senator had someone handy who understood the law.

So what the hell is going on that this fight would be so public and messy? Leaders are picking a fight with a huge employer who has brought jobs to this state and it isn’t passing the smell test. What’s really going on?

Gateway To Bigotry

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During this first week of the Sochi Olympics, much of the world has been discussing the oppressive anti-gay laws in Russia. Hear in Tennessee, we have an oppressive gay bill making the rounds by Memphis’ one and only Sen. Brian Kelsey. It has already been coined “Turn the Gays Away” bill.

Here’s what this bill does:

The bill notes that businesses can refuse services and goods only if it furthers a civil union, domestic partnership, or same-sex marriage. The person or business would just have to say it was against their religion. For example, if a same-sex couple wanted a cake for their wedding reception, a bakery could refuse to cater to them.

Jonathan Cole of the Tennessee Equality Project says the bill is making discrimination legal.

“It’s bad for business,” Cole said. “It’s bad for attracting talent that would be offered a job to come and work for a corporation here in Tennessee. When they see bills like this capturing the headlines, it really reflects poorly on the state.”

A couple of questions to delve further into Kelsey’s bill. The scope of the bill applies to anything that might apply to a big “gay” wedding or partnership, but the bottom line, to quote a comment made at Knox Views, it is another gateway bill into bigotry. We’ve seen this happen before with Sen. Stacy Campfield and his horrendous remarks about the LGBT community with his “Don’t Say Gay” bill. It’s about taking legislative action against civil rights. All men and women are created equal unless they want to get married to each other, then you can say I won’t help you because it’s against my religion?

It is a gateway problem because what happens after this bill? How much money will the state have to pay in legal fees when it gets sued and it will if this goes through.

Many of our legislators are good people, I’m not saying they aren’t. I will say though that they will be will be lumped in with the Campys and Kelseys of the world as long as bills like this keep getting burned to garner headlines and to purposefully discriminate against people. We are all Tennesseans and when the national headlines hit, and they have been plentiful lately, we all look idiotic.

While we are discussing demoralizing legislation, let’s look at some things not being discussed by our elected officials.

And speaking of the state of Tennessee’s finances we read this from the Nashville Post

Halfway through the state’s budget year Tennessee’s revenue collections are $222.7 million in the hole, the Department of Revenue reported Thursday.

Although the department says January has seen the largest growth in tax collections over the last 13 months, revenues fell short $51.6 million from the state’s expectations.

And the only jobs I’m hearing anyone in Nashville and Washington talk about right now is Volkswagon, where it is apparent that the same incentives that the GOP bent over backwards to give to the German auto manufacturer is now being treated with buyer’s remorse.I mean, is Sen. Bo Watson really threatening to pull incentives? Why yes, he did go there.

And finally, we are in our 44th day without Medicaid expansion so there is $110,000,000 down the toilet for the state of Tennessee.

What do Kelsey and Watson have to say about that? I guess they are too busy fighting gay people and unions to have even noticed.

Haslam’s Tuition Plan Shows Little Promise

Shiny Community College Push More Spin Than Substance

Trust MeBill Haslam is the most shameful kind of politician.

Don’t get me wrong. Haslam is surely a nice man. He’s probably a good father and husband. He presents well.

But his politics are shameful because, rather than fighting for the families he represents, he masterfully peddles false hope.

The most egregious example of Haslam’s hope peddling is, of course, Medicaid expansion.

Medicaid Expansion

Nearly a year ago, Haslam, in a big speech to the General Assembly, promised working families living without health coverage — more than 465,000 parents and children in Tennessee — that his office would submit a plan to get their families access to Medicaid coverage.

A year later, Haslam still peddles false hope talking about how hard he is trying. But he has refused to even produce a plan for public review. Leaders in the legislature filed an open records request to lay bare Haslam’s delay tactics.

Tennessee Promise

Much like his earlier initiatives, Haslam’s latest promise — a program to boost college graduation rates to 55% — is more publicity machine than actual plan.

Let me break it down for you. Haslam’s plan, called Tennessee Promise, would allow every high school graduate to attend community college free of charge for two years.

It sounds great when you hear it. But when you start scratching past the surface, you immediately uncover some inconvenient truths.

Tenn. Community Colleges Underperform Public Four-Year Colleges

Tennessee has the fifth lowest community college graduation rate in the nation. Only 8 percent of students graduate in two years and only 11.3 percent of students graduate within three years.

By comparison, nearly 20 percent of students graduate on time at four-year colleges and 45.5 percent of students graduate within six years — quadruple the rate.

Wow. Right? Public universities are four times more effective at getting students a degree than community colleges. The difference in graduation rates is even more pronounced among blacks and Latinos.

Breakthrough Collaborative, a national organization focused on boosting college graduation rates among underserved communities, issued a white paper in 2009 explaining why they focus on four-year college programs vs. community college.

“It is true that once students have their bachelor’s degrees, it makes little difference, in terms of earnings potential and job prospects, what path they took to get there. However, the likelihood of earning a bachelor’s degree is significantly reduced if a student starts her post‐secondary education at a community college, and the amount of time it takes to complete a bachelor’s degree (and potentially, the amount of loans a student accrues) is greatly increased. Additionally, research shows that the kinds of students Breakthrough serves—low‐income, minority, first generation—are less likely to transfer from community colleges to four‐year colleges and earn bachelor’s degrees. Therefore, the research supports the fact that students are more likely to complete bachelor’s degrees if they start their post‐secondary educations at four‐year colleges or universities.

If the research says the most effective way to increase college graduation rates is to send student to four-year programs, why does Haslam’s plan focus on the most ineffective way to boost graduation rates?

Mostly Re-Branding

Because it’s not a new plan. It’s just a bit of nifty re-branding.

As The Commercial Appeal’s Wendi Thomas put it, Haslam’s promise is “basically a repackaging of these Wilder-Naifeh technical skills grants and tnAchieves, just expanded.”

Qualifying high school graduates in Tennessee can already get a $3,000 Hope scholarship to cover tuition at state community colleges — that’s about 80 percent of total tuition costs.

Both the Wilder-Naifeh technical skills grants and tnAchieves, which operates in 27 counties, work to close the community college funding gap even more.

Robbing Peter to Pay Paul

To make community college completely free, a roughly $800 gap per student, Haslam’s plan raids $300 million from the Hope Scholarship reserves, cuts Hope Scholarships by $1,000 for freshman and sophomores in four-year programs, and hikes tuition rates — again.

An official representing private colleges in Tennessee told WPLN Haslam’s plan isn’t fair to students in four-year programs.

“It’s a very laudable goal for the governor to want to provide access to the community colleges in this way, however, it really shouldn’t be done on the back of the freshmen and sophomores at the university level.”

Perhaps even worse is that Haslam’s funding mechanism raids the lottery scholarship reserves, which fund Hope Scholarships.

The Hope Scholarship was established to send more Tennessee students to four-year colleges. The program has been a smash success.

Unfortunately, Haslam’s new program cripples the Hope Scholarship’s ability to grow. With reserves down to $100 million, there will be no appetite to expand scholarships or increase grants, which is greatly needed due to inflation and year-after-year tuition hikes.

So instead of investing in four-year universities, which are four-times as effective at producing students with degrees, Haslam built a $34 million publicity machine that sounds nice but definitely won’t drive to 55.

Now that sounds like a clunker.

Haslam terrified of democratic process

Terrified of business and workers working together

Terrified of business and workers working together

As workers at the Chattanooga VW plant prepare to for a vote that would decide whether or not the UAW could represent them in the plant, Gov. Haslam is continuing his chicken little dance about the prospect.

Haslam has been clucking about the potential for a union vote in Chattanooga since September, but VW officials don’t seem nearly as alarmed…and for good reason.

VW has a long history of working with unions rather than in opposition to them. Unions are the norm in Germany. The German “works councils” work together with managers to come up with ways to become more efficient and train workers in that new efficiency.

But for some reason, Gov. Haslam is terrified of the model VW has used all over the world coming to Tennessee.

It will “have some ramifications” and “dampen enthusiasm” Haslam has said. But is there any proof of that? We’re talking about one plant in one city where the company itself is not only NOT resisting the vote, but embracing it! Heck, the only enthusiasm for jobs in the state have been when they’ve involved scads of taxpayers dollars for low pay jobs or trying to give state buildings away.

And why is the Governor inserting himself in the way a business wants to conduct business? I mean, can’t they do what they think is best for them? Why is the Governor using his office to interfere with business?

The whining and crying from the Governor’s office has continued on, unabated since the fall…when charges arose that the Governor offered incentives for VW to reject the vote. Haslam denies these charges, but will not release any information about the discussions.

Still, he’s concern trolling the vote…a democratic vote of the workers at the plant to decide…as they have a right to do, if they will participate.

What makes it even more mystifying is that the vote doesn’t change anything about “right to work” rules in the state or guarantee employment.

Why does the Governor have such a big problem with the democratic process?

Haslam’s State of the State: Addressing Contradictions

Haslam Two FaceAfter a year of dithering on his stated aim to increase post-secondary graduation rates to 55 percent, Gov. Bill Haslam on Monday finally proposed a program to move toward accomplishing this goal.

Along with it, his budget includes college tuition hikes and scholarship cuts for freshman and sophomores.

Haslam has been using this kind of political doublespeak since he began running for governor four years ago and his State of the State speech Monday night was riddled with more of the same.

‘Tennessee Promise’

Haslam’s big announcement was a new $34 million government program, called Tennessee Promise, which would pay for graduating high school seniors to attend two years of community college free of tuition and fees.

Haslam budgets for the “Promise” by weakening the Hope Scholarship program and hiking tuition rates — again.

If the governor gets his way, Tennessee Promise would divert several hundred million dollars from the Tennessee Lottery reserve that underwrites the Hope Scholarship program. Haslam would also cut Hope Scholarship funding by $1,000 a year for qualifying freshmen and sophomores enrolled in four-year colleges.

To support two-year programs, Haslam’s plan would punish first- and second-year students at four-year universities. It would also severely restrict any future push to expand the successful Hope Scholarship program, which has provided high-performing students reliable tuition assistance, but hasn’t kept pace with inflation.

The father of the Hope Scholarship, now-Congressman Steve Cohen explained the problem with Tennessee Promise in an interview with The Commercial Appeal.

Preparing students to win the jobs of tomorrow is crucial for our state’s economic future, but stealing crucial funding from students and four-year universities to bolster two-year programs misses the point.

More Doublespeak & Contradictions

The ‘Promise’ was a glaring example, but there was plenty more Haslam doublespeak from his speech, where his actions have contradicted his rhetoric.

Teacher Pay: For months the governor has openly bragged about his intention to make Tennessee the “fastest growing” state for teacher pay. He repeated himself again at the State of the State.

Haslam did not mention that this year’s pay raise was financed with savings from the deep cuts Haslam’s administration made to the teacher salary schedule last year.

Taxes: Haslam yowled about a new $80 million budget deficit, but refused to acknowledge that his massive tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires, like himself, played any part in creating the deficit.

In fact, Haslam’s tax breaks for the rich, which will dig a $1 billion hole in the state budget over a decade, could have paid for his entire Tennessee Promise program and spared cuts to other vital programs that serve Tennesseans.

But Haslam and the Republican majority would rather cut programs for working families and saddle students with more debt than ask the wealthiest Tennesseans to do their share to invest in our economic future.

Healthcare: Once again, Haslam said how important it was for Tennessee families to have health coverage. He then told Tennessee’s uninsured, working poor to keep dreaming ‘cause Medicaid expansion ain’t happening on his watch.

Best Managed State: Haslam crowed about Tennessee being named third best managed state.

He left out that his Department of Children’s Services failed to respond to children in need or even account for more than a hundred dead children in its care.

Haslam also skimmed past the preventable deaths of disabled Tennesseans in the care of his Department of Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities.

Haslam glossed over his office management plan at the Department of General Services, which secured a $330 million no-bid, sweetheart contract for his business pals.

Never said a word about the $73 million of fraudulent and improper payments and crushing backlogs at the Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

What did you take away from Haslam’s State of the State?

Brandon Puttbrese is a public relations specialist and former communications director at the Tennessee Democratic Party. Find him on Twitter and Facebook.com

Beaver’s “Obamascare” bill would cost billions

State Sen. Mae Beavers R-Mt. Juliet

State Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet

In her zeal to scuttle Obamacare, State Sen. Mae Beavers has introduced an already constitutionally suspect bill that would make enforcement, participation, and material support illegal.

The bill is similar in scope and writing to measures in Georgia, and South Carolina.

It would basically make it illegal for any state entity or contractor to “establish or administer, or assist in establishing or administering, any specific regulatory scheme to operate the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, or any subsequent federal amendment to such act, in this state.

One thing’s for sure, Republicans will stop at nothing to seem more “anti-Obamacare” than the next guy…until it costs $6.5 billion.

As Tom Humphrey reports the fiscal note (cost to the state) of the bill would come out to 20% of the entire state budget.

Needless to say, action on the bill was deferred yesterday, and the “author” says she doesn’t understand why it would cost so much to do this.

Perhaps she should just read the 3 page fiscal note that describes the economic destruction Sen. Beavers is prescribing for the state.

Folks, we get it. Republicans hate the Affordable Care Act…not because huge swaths of it were written by the Heritage Foundation, but because Obama shepherded it through Congress and gleefully accepted the moniker “Obamacare” when the GOP tried to saddle the legislation with it.

Maybe Beavers should find something better to do with her time than propose bills that would economically devastate the state…like familiarize herself with the Supremacy Clause.

Haslam’s Astonishing Corporate Offer: Have a Skyscraper

Tower for SaleRather than building an economy from the bottom up and middle out, Bill Haslam has doubled down on risky mega-tax handouts that don’t always deliver the jobs they promise and too often favor big corporations instead of small business.

On Monday, we learned just how far Haslam’s administration is willing to go to please big corporations and CEOs.

In 2011, the Haslam administration packaged nearly $600 million worth of tax breaks and giveaways — including the 31-story Tennessee Tower! —  in an attempt to lure Sears to Nashville.

Watching Phil Williams’ report really leaves you wondering — with Haslam in charge, what part of our state isn’t for sale?

As soon as Haslam took office, his administration expanded Tennessee’s cash giveaways to big businesses even though The Nashville Business Journal reported that these programs gave more than $60 million to companies that never produced the jobs they promised.

Though the $100,000-per-job tax break never happened with Sears, another big corporation has benefited from a similar, secret arrangement.

Last year the Haslam administration approved a $30 million tax handout to Eastman Chemical, a Fortune 500 company and a big Haslam campaign contributor, for a project that might only add 300 jobs — that’s $100,000 per job.

In December 2012, The New York Times estimated that every Tennessee taxpayer chips in $249 a year — totaling at least $1.6 billion — to pay for state tax breaks and cash giveaways for big business.

The worst part of these giveaways is the absolute lack of accountability. In November, the state comptroller’s office issued a scathing report showing how little Haslam’s administration expects of the businesses lining up for a cut of our tax dollars.

We can’t make the critical investments our state needs to strengthen the middle class if we’re wasting our tax dollars on handouts that aren’t creating good-paying jobs.

To be fair, Haslam does believe in accountability for some Tennesseans — just not his administration or his business pals. In 2012, Haslam signed a law requiring drug testing for welfare recipients. So there’s that.

Brandon Puttbrese is a public relations specialist and former communications director at the Tennessee Democratic Party. Find him on Twitter and Facebook.com

Analysis: TN State of the State #TNSOTS2014

Unicorns and daisies in stunning monochrome

Unicorns and daisies in stunning monochrome®

So last night Gov. Bill Haslam delivered his 4th State of the State address of his term.

It was the same kind of “long on promises and short on details” self-congratulatory affair that we’ve come to expect from the Governor, complete with that good ole fiscal conservatism that says tax cuts for people who don’t miss the money are better than services for people who need them.

It was only imaginative in the way it manipulated or simply omitted facts to further a narrative of success that most people haven’t felt yet.

The Governor talked a lot about education. Nearly half of the speech was about it in some way or another. But to start, we should probably cover some of the other topics, so they don’t get lost in the mix.

Long List of “Accomplishments”

The Governor started off with a long list of “accomplishments”. Real long. Like almost two pages of them.

Lots of accolades from being named 3rd best managed state in the nation (I couldn’t find that, but I did find us at 16th last year which is better than most, that one needs a citation.

He also noted our award for state of the year from Business Facilities Magazine. The magazine notes the state brought in 6900 new jobs, but that’s less than 3% of the 237,700 people who were looking for work in December. Hardly a stellar performance for the people actually looking for jobs.

Haslam also hailed the drop in space state offices occupy. He says this will save the state money. Unfortunately, even his own numbers, as reported by NC5 in Nashville, tell a very different story. NC5 could only find about $450,000/year of savings, and further found the math the Governor has used is more than a little fuzzy. Good to know as we head into the budget section of the presentation.

$260m + -$340m = cut taxes

Haslam laid out new revenues for the upcoming year of $260m. Of course, his projections for this year are already $171m off the mark, so who knows if this is real or more fuzzy math from the Governor.

He also laid out $340m in new spending ($180m in Tenncare, $40m in employee health insurance, and $120m for education). That leaves an $80m hole in the budget.

The Governor defended tax cuts for estate taxes and the Hall income tax as “revenue growth” policies. This is a common GOP refrain, that makes no sense and that has been proven wrong over and over again.

Gov. Haslam offered no proposal that would cover the $80m dollar shortfall, so there’s that.

Education policy du jour

Of course, education was a huge part of the speech, since that’s the one thing just about everyone agrees the state should pay for (within limits). The Governor hailed the gains in the state’s overall TCAP scores for 2013. There’s no question that seeing scores go up is a positive, but a seven point jump in two years when the national average is only one point, should be a cause for skepticism. Further, going back to 2003, the states scores have increased by 12 points (seven of those between 2011 and 2013).

Had the gains been a gradual upswing (they weren’t) they would seem to be the result of a policy decision. But a seven point swing in two years looks more like an outlier than a trend. This is something we’ll have to watch more in the coming years to see if a trend is actually established. My gut tells me no. The state scores have hovered in the same 3 point swing zone since 2005.

He also hit on all the “blame the teachers” policies his administration has been pushing since 2011, and vouchers…something drains resources from already under-resourced public schools.

Tennessee Promises, Promises

The biggest attention grabber was the “Tennessee Promise” program. Under this plan, high school students would be given two years of free tuition at a two-year school to get an associates degree. If they chose to move on to a four-year institution, they could begin as a junior.

On the face of it, this seems like a good and progressive idea. Get kids who might not have the resources or the grades to make it in a four-year school to get their feet wet in a two-year school, and parlay that success into higher educational attainment overall.

But he devil is in the details, and the plan to use money from the Tennessee Lottery Scholarship fund raised the ire of the panned the funding idea because it would drain the fund, and possibly hurt four-year institutions in the state, by draining away college Freshmen and Sophomores.

I’m also skeptical about the “endowment fund” that would pay for this program. How will the endowment be administered? Will it have a board packed with cronies like just about every other government institution in the state? What happens if it runs out of money?

Seems to me, the money would be better spent as intended…to fully fund college, and that more money should be allocated to higher education to bring tuition costs down, and maybe even attract out of state students that pay way more than in-state students do.

As for the Community Colleges, they’re critically important, no doubt. But shouldn’t they be focused on the things they’re already successful at…providing access to some General Ed. courses for students and graduating students who aren’t on a four-year track.

On a political note, the idea that this General Assembly would pass a bill that amounts to a new entitlement is cute. I don’t see it happening.

So there it is. The state of the state. The response from the House Democratic Caucus can be found here.

Vouchers, A Tight Budget And Accountability

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Not many people are talking about how a voucher system will effect rural schools in Tennessee. There are not very many private schools outside of urban areas, and so when tonight we will hear Gov. Bill Haslam talk about his voucher initiative. Where is that money going to go in every county?

This is a question rural legislators should be paying particular attention to, what is the needs of their district when it comes to education.

In an article from 2011, Pennsylvania addressed the same questions that Tennessee is facing today.

First, as the governor and nearly every local lawmaker says, the state is in financial trouble. The governor’s proposed budget slashes funding for many worthwhile programs, and offers up huge cuts for public education at all levels. We can’t afford to keep spending like we have been, Corbett and others have argued. If that’s the case, how can we now afford to create a new program that conservative estimates say will cost several hundred million dollars a year? If that kind of money is laying around, why can’t we restore some funding for public schools and universities? The simple answer is that the money isn’t there, and lawmakers would have to find other programs to pull the money from.
Our second problem is the lack of accountability and the fact that our tax dollars would be handed over to private, many for-profit, schools that don’t have to answer to anyone. They can hire whomever they want, teach whatever they want, and in the end, student achievement is beyond the purvey of the Department of Education.
Public schools are accountable to the state Department of Education, and to the local school boards. Private schools are…well…private. They have voluntary accreditations, but in the end, they are accountable only to the people who put up the money to own them.

By last fall, GOP Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett had a huge mess on his hands in Philadelphia.

Want to see a public school system in its death throes? Look no further than Philadelphia. There, the school district is facing end times, with teachers, parents and students staring into the abyss created by a state intent on destroying public education.

On Thursday the city of Philadelphia announced that it would be borrowing $50 million to give the district, just so it can open schools as planned on Sept. 9, after Superintendent William Hite threatened to keep the doors closed without a cash infusion. The schools may open without counselors, administrative staff, noon aids, nurses, librarians or even pens and paper, but hey, kids will have a place to go and sit.

The $50 million fix is just the latest band-aid for a district that is beginning to resemble a rotting bike tube, covered in old patches applied to keep it functioning just a little while longer. At some point, the entire system fails.

Things have gotten so bad that at least one school has asked parents to chip in $613 per student just so they can open with adequate services, which, if it becomes the norm, effectively defeats the purpose of equitable public education, and is entirely unreasonable to expect from the city’s poorer neighborhoods.

The voucher debate has been relegated to urban areas leaving rural realities basically invisible. The bottom line is if vouchers are introduced, small struggling school districts will financially get hammered. The loss of even a baker’s dozen handful of students could cost that school millions they can’t afford to lose.

So it is fair to ask, what is the plan for every school in the state and not just the ones that will be mentioned in the news cycle?

The Tennessean has a story today on how school voucher PACs have already spent close to a quarter of a million dollars in Tennessee ahead of this year’s election.

And on a final note, Tennessee Education Report has interviewed Speaker Beth Harwell who addressed vouchers.

2) If a voucher program is implemented, would you consider independent funding of the voucher students, i.e. funding their tuition through new state funding rather than by redirecting BEP and local funds that would have gone to the LEA?  If the voucher program is limited, as Governor Haslam would like, this could be a relatively inexpensive way to test whether vouchers can raise student achievement without penalizing LEAs for the experiment.

I want everyone’s voice to be heard throughout the process, and welcome all ideas. However, we are already anticipating a tight budget due to revenue shortfalls, so a new funding source may not be possible at this at this time.

Once again, what is the plan?

As Brandon discussed last week, there needs to be a conversation on the facts of education reform. We don’t want to be another Pennsylvania.

What you won’t hear in Gov. Haslam’s “State of the State” address

For Haslam...a lot is better left unsaid.

For Haslam…a lot is better left unsaid.

Tonight, Gov. Haslam will deliver his “State of the State” address. I expect it will go a lot like last year’s address, keying in on education and fiscal restraint. He might say something about Tenncare expansion, but if he does, it will only be to say we can’t afford to take a couple of years of free money to care for 180,000 people in our state…because, you know, free money from the Feds is too costly when you’re terrified of the Lt. Governor.

Haslam will have to face the fact that revenue collections are $171m short for the first 6 months of the year. That’s a lot of scratch any way you slice it. Perhaps this isn’t the economic miracle that he thought it was.

Of course, lower tax collections means the Governor has an excuse to cut necessary services. Every year he’s been in office he’s directed all departments other than education to cut an arbitrary 5% from their budgets…all while lowering taxes on folks who make their money through investment income.

All of this fits neatly into an ideology that’s centered around the”haves” and “can’t haves”…a worldview the Governor doesn’t explicitly articulate, but one he is a studious acolyte of.

But there’s so much more you won’t hear from the Governor.

Giving our money away to other states

Giving our money away to other states

You won’t hear that his Tennessee plan for Medicaid Expansion is a plan in name only, or that, as of today he’s surrendered $85,000,000 of Tennessean’s Federal Tax dollars to other states because he thinks a health insurance plan based on Republican ideology, and authored largely by the Heritage Foundation, aka Obamacare, is a clunker.

You won’t hear about government contracts he supports with a company he formerly invested in, or that an audit calls that same contract into question, or that when he tried to get more government money for his former investment he was told no by members of his own party.

You won’t hear anything about any of these issues, or the contract he gave to his Finance Commissioner’s former employer, or the contract General Services awarded to Enterprise-Rent-a-Car after hiring one of its former execs.

You won’t hear him talk about his economic development plan that includes paying $100,000 per job to a company that gave over $36,000 to his campaign, and is represented by his under the table paid “advisor” Tom Ingram.

You will hear how he’s running state government like a business…he just won’t mention that business is his family business, Pilot Flying J which is under Federal investigation for defrauding clients.

I mean, there’s a whole page of questions and an hour long special to boot.

But despite all this graft, regular Tennesseans must suffer cuts because a state with one of the lowest tax burdens on the wealthy in the nation must find more ways for them to accumulate wealth so…they will “create jobs” even though business leaders say tax cuts don’t create jobs, and so does a study from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.

You probably will hear him crow about education, but he won’t mention the reforms he’s taking credit for were first offered by a Democratic President, and put into action by a Democratic Governor.

You won’t hear him talk about our poverty rate that is higher than the national average, or our jobless rate is higher than the national average.

You won’t hear him talk about any of these things because he doesn’t have to. This is just another victory lap in a life of victory laps for a Governor that likely won’t have anyone running against him in the fall, and that feels he can act as he pleases, so long as it doesn’t raise too much of a stir so as to damage his widely held image as a “moderate”.

So enjoy the kabuki theater that will be tonight’s State of the State address, which will be aired online and on your local PBS station.

It’ll be a doozie…I’m sure.