Tag Archives: Education

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

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 are no “golden ticket”

There's always a catch to every golden ticket

There’s always a catch to every golden ticket

Its “National School Choice Week” the press release reads, and they loaded up busses from Southland Mall in Whitehaven this morning to take people to Nashville in support of the School Voucher bill supported by Brian Kelsey and John DeBerry…and not supported by Gov. Haslam.

Last year when Kelsey and Haslam butted heads on the voucher bill, it died in the last days of session. This year its anybody’s guess.

Voucher bills, and the people that introduce them have been getting some big time financial support over the past few years thanks to the big time money that has been seeking to shepherd the legislation through all 50 state houses.

Groups like The American Federation for Children, funded by the Walton family of Wal-Mart fame, and the DeVos family of Amway, have been literally pouring money into “independent” groups like AFC, and others…not to mention the campaign coffers of politicians to get their favored education reform passed.

It would be easy to point you to an an angry screed about the “dark money” that’s funding these efforts.

I could point you to articles about the ugly truth of school choice.

I could have sent you to a photo of a llama in either one of those links and you’d probably be none the wiser.

Most folks, either for or against school voucher plans aren’t really interested in that.

They’re interested in their kids succeeding and they’ve been told “school choice” or vouchers are the way to make that happen.

Unfortunately, there are no sure things in life, and vouchers are just another example of that.

There’s plenty of evidence that shows vouchers don’t work and aren’t any more efficient at delivering educational outcomes than anything else.

The problem is, the real problem is much bigger than the school your kids go to.

Vouchers are a solution avoiding a larger problem

Voucher supporter, and President of the Memphis Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Rev. Dwight Montgommery says,

Children of lesser means are being discriminated against and forced “to attend schools that are not adequate to serve their learning needs,” said Montgomery. “This is as unacceptable today as it was 59 years ago in 1955.”

There’s no denying he’s right about this. Poor children have largely been left behind, but education is only one aspect of that reality. Yesterday I wrote about the opportunity gap in the south. Poor children, and their families, have been repeatedly failed by society. They’ve been left behind, derided for their circumstances, and written off by more people than I could name.

Unfortunately, vouchers only compound this problem for the reasons I laid out here.

There’s no question in my mind that we, as a society, need to do more to tackle the opportunity gap head on.

There’s no question we need to do better by poor kids in the US, and a lot of that means pouring more into public education.

But rather than do that, we’ve sought stop-gap measures that have the effect of actually de-funding public education, all while blaming teachers for not getting more done with less.

While I have no doubt that voucher supporters like Rev. Montgommery have the best intentions, the truth is, educators have done as much with less as they can.

If we really want to make education better in Tennessee, we need to start giving our children more opportunities to get ahead (Pre-K, after school and summer programs, parental involvement programs) and our educators more tools to make a difference. That means spending more in a state that’s one of the most stingy with its education dollar in the United States. We have to do all this while working in earnest to help the parents of these kids get to a place where they’re not struggling to survive.

But none of that is on the table this week. Just golden tickets, and an empty promise of “success”.

Voucher bill in the driver’s seat

Who would vouchers harm in this picture? All of them.

Who would vouchers harm in this picture? All of them.

The state legislature has been in session for over a week, and as anyone who’s been following state politics for a while knows…that means its time for another discussion about what advocates like to misleadingly call “school choice” and what the rest of us call “vouchers”.

Once again, ready to lead the charge is Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) (who I am already tired of talking about), joined by Delores Gresham (R-Somerville) and John DeBerry (D-Memphis).

DeBerry’s sponsorship makes this a “bi-partisan” effort…though DeBerry has been voting with Republicans a lot more than he has been with Democrats in recent years. I guess his values “go with the flow”, so to speak.

I say its misleading to call the current bill a “school Choice” bill for two reasons:

1. It is limited in nature. According to the Commercial Appeal, the vouchers would not be available to everyone. Just students in “failing schools”…unless enough of them don’t take advantage.

2. The bill assumes that the parents would be able to cover the difference in the cost of a private school education…and since most of the students in failing schools are also dirt poor, the reality is…that won’t happen…which takes us back to #1, and the chance that this could be nothing more than a free for all for the folks who are already paying for private schools…which is what this really seems to be all about.

The truth is, school vouchers only sap public money away from public schools to the benefit of private schools. That’s it. So if you’re one of those that thinks public education is an entitlement program, you’re probably really for vouchers…like the group that staged this event last year.

There are plenty of other concerns as well.

But perhaps my favorite critical critique comes from the blog Bluff City Education in this post.

Here’s a snippet:

…To date we’ve seen little to no positive demonstrated impact on student achievement from these programs. In 2010, the Center on Education Policy reviewed 10 years of voucher research and action and found that vouchers had no strong effect on student achievement. The most positive results come from Milwaukee County’s voucher program, but the effects were small and limited to only a few grades.

Voucher programs also struggle to achieve their mission of providing low-income students with a way out of failing schools. For example a critical study of the Milwaukee program found that it overwhelmingly helped those already receiving education through private means. Two thirds of Milwaukee students using the voucher program in the city already attended private schools. Instead of increasing mobility for low-income students, the program primarily served to perpetuate status quo.

Ahh, so this really is about helping private schools and the students that already attend them. Good to know.

Unfortunately, the fate of this bill isn’t set in terms of whether or not it helps students or furthers the aim of educating the children…its wrapped up in the size.

Last year the Governor’s bill died, and the alternative…sponsored by Kelsey, also failed to make it through both houses.

Will this year be different? Who the heck knows? But its something to watch.

Surprise! Poverty and Education Magically Linked!

An article in this morning’s Commercial Appeal highlights something every educator already knows: Poverty plays a big role in the education of our nation’s children.

As the child of two educators who avoided the family business, this isn’t news to me. I’ve been hearing this my entire life. So its odd when I hear politicians saying we need to fix teachers or whatever, when we really need to be working to fix the conditions that maintain the high levels of poverty both in the state as a whole, and our individual communities.

But addressing the role of poverty in education is one of those things that politicians are really scared of for some reason. It’s always easier to pick on teachers than it is to address something that leaves you staring at the ceiling and in a cold sweat at night.

Here’s a little taste of the article:

State ACT scores have increased from 19.9 in 1999 to 20.6 in 2009. Standards for school principals make the state a regional leader, and new high school graduates in Tennessee are enrolling in college at a higher rate than their U.S. peers.

But the increasing number of children growing up in poverty threatens improvements, according to a Challenge to Lead report released Wednesday by the Southern Regional Education Board.

In 2009, 55 percent of Tennessee youngsters came from homes where family incomes made them eligible for free school lunches (up to $40,793 for a family of four), a 14 percent increase in 10 years.

The reasons include poor families caught in the economic downturn but also point to a growing Hispanic population, which tends to live on subsistence wages, according to the report.

According to data in the Urban Child Institute’s 2010 “State of Children in Memphis and Shelby County: Data Book,” median income in the city has risen 29 percent since 2003 to $45,540 and higher in the unincorporated county.

“But it has had no impact on children living in poverty,” said Eugene Cashman, president and CEO of the Urban Child Institute.

The way out, he said, is concentrated investments in prenatal care and pre-K, “which make children perform better immediately.”

Nearly 19% of Shelby County residents live in poverty. In Memphis that number is over 24%. Considering those numbers, and the fact that 85% of MCS students qualify for free or reduced lunches, it’s no surprise that our city schools only graduate around 60% of it’s students.

This is something that requires a broad based action plan by all the political bodies involved; from the school boards, City Council and County Commission, state legislative delegations and ultimately federal legislators. Until there is some integrative approach by, at the very least, the majority of these political bodies, the song will remain the same for students not just in Memphis and Shelby County, but across the state.

Merely addressing the symptoms; teachers, standards, etc. isn’t working. We need to treat the disease. It’s going to take a lot of cooperation to do this. Unfortunately, cooperation is in very short supply, particularly where its needed most, here in Memphis.

Race to the Bottom? Heck, We’re Already There!


Over at Pith, Woodsie is talking Education, noting that Tennessee ranks 46th in overall education spending.

That, of course, prompted me to take a look at just what our nearly lowest in the nation education spending is getting us.

According to the Census Bureau Tennessee isn’t too far off the national average when it comes to National Assessment of Educational Progress Proficiency.

However, like most things in life, this doesn’t tell the whole the story.

In a 2007 article published by stateline.org a a nonprofit, nonpartisan online news site that practices journalism in the public interest by reporting on emerging trends and issues in state policy and politics, funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts, we see just how easy it is for states to game the system, and even get called out as a state for doing that very thing.

This may explain why in the 2006-07 “Smartest State Ranking” we jumped from 41 to 30. More recent rankings are hidden behind CQ’s paywall, but I’m sure some intrepid reporter with greater resources than my poor little Cheetos covered fingers could find that out if they wanted to bad enough.

Of course, Tennessee isn’t the only state that games the system, we just do it in a way that doesn’t look so gamey. As the article states Alabama moved from 22nd to 5th in the same year. Obviously their policy folks are far more skilled at gaming the system than ours.

In the end, no one really knows how our kids are doing because there are so many loopholes that other than tracking actual spending there’s no way to really know.

Big fun folks, big fun.

Screening of ‘Papers’ At MTSU

From Hispanic Nashville, there will be a screening of a documentary called “Papers.”

Can you imagine graduating from high school with all of your friends, in a country that may be all you’ve ever known, only to realize that you do not have the same opportunities as your peers? You do not qualify for financial assistance to pursue that important college education that has been impressed upon you during your high school years, nor will you have an easy time trying to find a job to support yourself…all because of ‘Papers’.

The Delta Iota Chapter of Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority, Inc.
presents: Undocumented, Uneducated.


Date: Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Time: 7:00pm – 10:00pm
Location: Business and Aerospace (BAS) Building, State Farm Room (S102)
Middle Tennessee State University
City/Town: Murfreesboro, TN

Here is a snippet from the film:

Cathy McCaughan Spotlighted In Knoxville News Sentinel

Cathy Tweeting

Cathy McCaughan deserves a great deal of credit for using online tools to spread the word about the school system in Knoxville. Michael Silence spotlighted her yesterday in his Sunday column.

One of the area’s more active online warriors is West Knoxville’s Cathy McCaughan, who blogs at Domestic Psychology. With five kids,

McCaughan is active in discussions and issues involving the Knox County school system. She’s also a force behind School Matters, an online multi-resource site hosted by KnoxNews.com.

Cathy gives credit when it’s due, and is also not afraid to constructively critique the school system when she thinks it’s necessary. She also explains on her blog the mindset of why and how she twitters school board meetings.

She is an online warrior indeed, and she also intricately understands the use of positive and assertive activism in education issues.

And as a bonus, she is a fabulous photographer and if you want to see consistent and absolutely beautiful pictures of her family, hit up her Flickr stream. It really is a work of art in the day-to-day lives of a Tennessee family.

The Crappy Economy and Lack of Jobs Probably Didn’t Hurt Either

The University of Memphis has seen a surge in enrollment since last semester the Commercial Appeal reports.

University officials say aggressive recruitment and retention programs helped the numbers.

Two years ago they were talking about community colleges, but with the economy continuing to be weak, people may be more willing to wait it out or further their education even more.

In all honesty, one of the things that got me thinking about going back was the economy. I saw my industry hurting, as well as my bank account, and took the opportunity to get me some book learnin’.

The Scholar Ladies

Here’s the story of how this video went viral.

The video is from Hope Christian School  from Minneapolis. It’s not from Tennessee, but education over a diamond ring is for everyone.

Instead of singing about seeking an engagement ring, the girls boast with attitude about earning top grades, preparing for college and staying free of trouble.

“If you learned it then you should have got an A on it,” the girls sing. “Don’t be mad when you see that we got it. If you learned it then you should have got an A on it.”

“It inspires kids to see it’s cool to be smart and reach goals,” said Charmaine Taylor, a sixth-grader who is the backup dancer on the left as the video starts. Charmaine said she wants to attend college and study to become a lawyer. “I want other people to know you can do anything if you just put your mind to it,” she said.


From Our Very Own Aunt B.