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Voucher Bills are Back, And Not Just One

Remember when there was a media blitz proclaiming voucher legislation was dead for this year? Well, they are back.

The national strategy is all about expanding voucher eligibility under one law. In Tennessee, two new bills introduced this year are trying to expand the Individualized Education Account (IEA), more accurately called an IEP Special Ed voucher. The current TN voucher law passed in 2015 was originally advertised as a small voucher to allow privatization to take a bite and see if it works. It limited the disabilities that students must have to qualify to receive a voucher.

Even though TN is in year 3 of that Special Ed voucher, we have no idea if these Special Ed vouchers are cost-effective or how kids perform academically while spending our tax dollars. There is no accountability. There is no real interest in seeing if this helps. It is legalizing the funding of private school (80% are religious schools) with public money. Surprisingly, it seems most are not going to private schools with these vouchers.

Of the 20,000 eligible voucher students, only about 100 are being used. Most of those 100 seem to be used for homeschooling. This looks more like a homeschool money grab in the name of school choice. Is this the intent? Maybe they should be called homeschool vouchers?

Further proof of this widening homeschool strategy is a bill asking for voucher money to buy books and materials. HB2491/SB2608 Education – As introduced, permits a parent to buy student workbooks and instructional materials, in addition to textbooks, with funds from the parent’s student’s Individualized Education Account (IEA). – Amends TCA Title 49 and Title 67, Chapter 4. It remains uncalendared.

TREE advocates, we need to focus on what is scheduled to be heard in the next few weeks. These two NEW Voucher Expanders are dangerous to public schools.

HB1109/SB0987 – Education – As introduced, removes requirement that an eligible student be previously enrolled in a public school for two semesters prior to receiving an individualized education account, attend a Tennessee school for the first time, or receive an account in the previous school year in order to be considered eligible to receive an individualized education account. – Amends TCA Title 49. http://wapp.capitol.tn.gov/apps/BillInfo/Default.aspx?BillNumber=HB1109

HB2474/SB2610 Students – As introduced, extends eligibility for an individualized education account to any student with an individualized education program (IEP). – Amends TCA Title 49, Chapter 10, Part 14. http://wapp.capitol.tn.gov/apps/BillInfo/Default.aspx?BillNumber=HB2474

Let’s Break This Down

HB1109/SB0987 “Give Vouchers to Kids Already in Private Schools” scheduled for House Education Instruction & Programs Subcommittee to be heard Wednesday 3/21/2018, will recommend students already in private school receive public dollars for tuition. By allowing children that have never been enrolled in public school to take a private school voucher, funded from the BEP, essentially local districts will be forced to pay for private school tuition. School districts in TN are already underfunded and cannot afford this kind of scheme.

HB2474/SB2610 “All IEP’s Get a Voucher” is scheduled for hearing in House Education Administration & Planning Subcommittee on Tuesday 3/13/2018. (THIS TUESDAY) This bill will widen current voucher to ALL students with an IEP, increasing the fraction of Tennessee students eligible for IEA vouchers from about 2% to over 13.9%. According to the state report card, 13.9% of all Tennessee students are disabled, bringing the total students eligible to 139,234.

For the 2017-18 school year, the statewide average expenditure was almost $10,000 per student (actually, $9,958 ). If about half the eligible students applied for an IEA voucher, the program would divert about $700 million state and local taxpayer dollars away from our public schools.

For those of you who buy into the narrative that this is great for special needs kids or kids with learning differences, think again. It might work out fine for parents who can navigate losing their IDEA rights to services and who can afford to close the tuition gap, pay for extra services, or homeschool. The voucher will not cover most schools’ full tuition or extra therapy costs. This bill is nothing more than a widening of the privatization of public education and codifying the loss of disability services. (A Betsy DeVos goal!)

While private schools that receive vouchers through the program cannot discriminate against students with disabilities, they are also not required to offer special education services beyond those that can be provided with “minor adjustments” to their educational program. This means that schools can deny admission outright to students if their needs are considered too severe. If schools do choose to admit students with special needs, they are not obligated to provide necessary behavioral and educational interventions and can refuse to continue services at any time or charge extra for the additional services. Parents who investigate closely realize that these vouchers are not what they are advertised to be.

We cannot emphasize enough that the widening of the IEP voucher law is nothing more than a widening of privatization, not about providing accountable access to services. Just take a look at the Arizona Legislature when they created its ESA program in 2011 for special-needs students. It has since expanded it to allow children from poor-performing schools, from military families, and others. The pattern has arrived in Tennessee. It is all intentional.

Will you let your education committees hear from you? Vouchers in other states have been nothing more than public education budget-busters with no accountability to tax dollars and no proof of academic improvements. We need to work to improve, strengthen, and fund special education needs in the public school system.

Email the Sub Committees.
House Education Instruction & Programs Subcommittee Meets Wednesday 3/21/2018 Tell them to vote NO HB 1109 that allows families, not in public school, to take an IEA voucher.

Email Copy Paste:
rep.sheila.butt@capitol.tn.gov, rep.roger.kane@capitol.tn.gov , rep.david.byrd@capitol.tn.gov, rep.bill.dunn@capitol.tn.gov, rep.john.forgety@capitol.tn.gov, rep.joe.pitts@capitol.tn.gov, rep.mike.stewart@capitol.tn.gov

House Education Administration & Planning Subcommittee Meets Tuesday 3/13/2018 (THIS TUESDAY) Tell them to vote NO HB 2474 that allows all IEPs to apply for a voucher.

Email Copy Paste:
rep.mark.white@capitol.tn.gov, rep.harry.brooks@capitol.tn.gov, rep.john.deberry@capitol.tn.gov, rep.eddie.smith@capitol.tn.gov, rep.johnnie.turner@capitol.tn.gov, rep.dawn.white@capitol.tn.gov

Thank you for your voice.

via GIPHY

 
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Way Back in 2012 When Some Parents Questioned Privatization

 TREE (Tennesseans Reclaiming Educational Excellence)  grew out of a smaller attempt at parent coalition building back in 2012 through a group named “Standing Together 4 Strong Community Schools.” Little did we know what that would mean in the future or that our blog posts would still have value today when questioning public education policy.  This TREE post is a quick copy/paste of that year’s blog writing. It is long. You might need to use the search function. It chronicles our fight against the charter authorizer, changes in charter laws that override local decisions today around charter school entry into districts and the year over year push to bring public school vouchers to Tennessee.

President Donald Trump and his Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, are proposing over $10 billion in cuts to the U.S. Department of Education, along with over $1 billion (so far) in new funding for charter schools & voucher programs. They do not want public education. We do and we are still fighting for great public education for ALL children.

MARCH Against the Devos bad policies THIS THURSDAY. Read more details on the Facebook invite as we assemble to ask DeVos to not “DeVostate Tennessee Schools” at Riverfront park 5pm. https://www.facebook.com/events/940…

At the time of these posts we had no idea this legislative march on the dismantling of public education was being replicated all over the country and would continue today.  Want to know more about the history of these unproven voucher policies and for-profit schemes to take dollars from Tennessee schools? Maybe some of the bad policy results we warned about have come true?

Read on.

 
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Betsy DeVos Is Coming to Nashville

We wanted to update you on several events coming up in Nashville in the next few weeks. We feel as parents and teachers and public school supporters we must respond and or participate. We hope you will join us at one or all of these events.
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 29th, 6:00 pm
MNEA will be showing the film “Backpack Full of Cash” at the Vanderbilt Mayborn Building – Vanderbilt University, 230 Appleton Place, Nashville, TN 37212 followed by a panel discussion with school board members Amy Frogge and Christiane Buggs as well as other panelists. This film, narrated by Matt Damon, explores the efforts underway to privatize K-12 public education.

 

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THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 30th, 5:00 pm
Betsy DeVos is coming to Nashville, and MNEA & TEA are hosting a RALLY at the Riverfront Park by the Music City Star Train Station. DeVos will be speaking at the National Summit on Education Reform held at the Omni Hotel.

 

 We will gather at the Riverfront for a rally. MNEA & TEA are arranging for speakers and performing artists. After the rally, look for a march from Riverfront to the Omni around 6:30 on public sidewalks. Check for further details as more groups get involved. Join parents, teachers and public school supporters as we assemble to ask DeVos to not “DeVostate Tennessee Schools”. Here is the Facebook Event Link.  https://www.facebook.com/events/940…
If your organization is interested in co-hosting this DeVos action email rosa@socm.org or michelesheriff@bellsouth.net
Interested in some anti-DeVos rally poster art? Click Here.

 

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 7th, 4:30 pm

ALEC not Welcome Here! Rally Organized by the Central Labor Council of Nashville and Middle TN -at Cumberland River Park Thursday, December 7 at 4:30 PM – 7:30 PM

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is holding their annual Nation and States Policy conference in Nashville, TN, Dec. 6-8. ALEC’s corporate backers draft laws that hurt our communities, take money from our paychecks, defund our schools, criminalize our neighbors, dirty our environment, and intentionally weaken our democracy to keep their corporate clients wealthy. We will rally at Cumberland Park and march to the Omni Hotel, where the ALEC conference is being held. Please join us to send a strong message to our Legislators: we want a PEOPLE’s Agenda, not a Corporate Agenda!! Click for facebook event info. https://www.facebook.com/events/194…

 

WHAT NEXT? We can rally and march for public education. But, what actions can we take NOW to make our public schools great and protect them and our children from DeVos takeover? Look for plans to gather, learn and take positive steps to understand how public education needs you to survive the attack and fleecing from privatization. Stay tuned. Sign up for TREE email alerts. http://treetn.us3.list-manage2.com/…
You can also sign up for text messaging from Defend Public Ed TN to get immediate updates on actions. Text @defendp to the number 81010. You’ll receive a welcome text from the Remind texting service. If anyone has trouble with 81010, you can try texting @defendp to (941) 900-3867.
 
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Voucher Pilots Are Seeds for Tax Hikes

 COMMISH SPREADSHEET_Page_1 COMMISH SPREADSHEET_Page_2

Go Ahead. Click the spreadsheets first.

The “Ever-Expanding Universe of Vouchers” was a blog post https://treetn.org/expanding-vouche… TREE did last year warning Tennessee about school voucher intentions. In that blog we stated, “Voucher supporters, along with money from outside interests, will stop at nothing to expand voucher programs in Tennessee, effectively creating a privatized black hole for taxpayer dollars. Tennessee ranks 47th in funding for public education, leaving schools to tread water while legislators look for ways to fund private schools.” And where are we AGAIN this year? Fighting back multiple attempts to expand public school vouchers.

One bill will expand the TN IEP voucher. Only 38 out of 20k qualifying families bothered to sign up for the current version of this voucher. But, it is not about what families want. It is about expanding. This new version wants to qualify more disabilities to wave their IDEA rights and take the money even though we have no idea if the pilot works. This IEP expansion is modeled after Arizona. The Arizona Legislature created its ESA program in 2011 for special-needs students and has since expanded it to allow children from poor-performing schools, from military families, and others. Watch for this pattern in Tennessee. It is all intentional.

 

MEMPHIS IS THE TARGET
The other voucher bill (HB126) left progressing through committee is squarely and unfairly aimed at Memphis as a pilot. And Memphis parents, school boards, and elected officials have not been silent in their objection. Here is what we know about urban pilots. Every time a voucher starts as an urban pilot for a small number of students, it expands across the state. Flashback to charter schools as an urban pilot solution. And now several rural districts are seeing charter school intent letters. The playbook is followed in every state where privatized solutions proliferate. Vouchers will not stop at a pilot. Isn’t the point of a pilot to see if something works? The word pilot is a sham. We don’t even know if the IEP disability pilot is working and it is already expanding.

 

This Memphis pilot bill is stuck on whether it will even use the TNReady to see if the pilot works.  How is that fair? How do you show a voucher pilot improves educational outcomes for children if they don’t take TNReady?

 

THANK YOU COUNTY COMMISSIONERS
Concerns are growing fast as the County Commissioners Association published a spreadsheet (shown above) that TREE obtained via email, sent to Association members outlining a rough idea, county by county illustrating “[H]ow a k-12 voucher program might impact county budgets, particularly if you compare revenue lost when a student transfers out of a school district and into a private school.  https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6… ) The chart shows the amount of county property tax needed to offset a 10-percent decrease in student population. [The Association] research has cross-checked many of the systems and, for the most part, it appears to be accurate. ” Of note: Carroll County sets its districts differently, so the formula used does not translate for that county.

 

The property tax increases to offset vouchers seen on the spreadsheet is not something any county commissioner wants to pass on to property owners. Lauderdale County loses the most with an 84.23 cent increase per year. Davidson is looking at a 30.36 cent  increase. The Tennessee Ed Report did a post that outlined skyrocketing taxes in Indiana and some potential scenarios for Tennessee. http://tnedreport.com/2017/03/the-v…

School vouchers become a parallel school system to fund. One Tennessee cannot afford.

 

Parents feel vouchers are an empty promise. Study after study show they do not work to increase achievement. https://www.brookings.edu/research/… Without transportation and the ability to cover all the extras, a voucher is not really in reach of most public school families. The private schools most familiar won’t be taking vouchers. And in the end, voucher school choice is the choice of the private school to accept a student and to keep a student. It opens the door to discriminatory practices that leave Shelby County parents in doubt this is little more than a religious school subsidy with tax dollars that experiments on their children.

 

Our government needs to invest in neighborhood schools, invest in RTi2 small intervention classes, time with a teacher, community schools coordinators to coordinate wrap-around services and discipline supports. Fund opportunities to engage in learning. Not siphon off public dollars into private, unregulated hands. We must support Shelby County Schools, not public money for vouchers. Former Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey confirmed that he supported intentions to expand the program statewide when he recently spoke to a group of Shelby County Republicans in Bartlett. These pilots are nothing more than seeds for state voucher program growth and higher taxes.

 

Please CALL AND write the Finance Sub-Committee. Ask them to vote NO on school vouchers. Thank them for their service and especially thank them if they are a NO vote. The Memphis pilot voucher bill will be heard in finance subcommittee next. Please tell them not to fall for this scheme to destroy our public school system and raise our property taxes.

 

House Finance Subcommittee 2017:

 

Rep. Kevin Brooks (R-Cleveland): 615/741-1350 rep.kevin.brooks@capitol.tn.gov

 

Rep. Karen Camper (D-Memphis): 615/741-1898 rep.karen.camper@capitol.tn.gov

 

Rep. Jim Coley (R-Bartlett): 615/741-8201 rep.jim.coley@capitol.tn.gov

 

Rep. Craig Fitzhugh (D-Ripley): 615/741-2134 rep.craig.fitzhugh@capitol.tn.gov

 

Rep. David Hawk (R-Greeneville): 615/741-7482 rep.david.hawk@capitol.tn.gov

 

Rep. Patsy Hazlewood (R-Signal Mountain): 615/741-2746 rep.patsy.hazlewood@capitol.tn.gov

 

Rep. Gary Hicks (R-Rogersville): 615/741-7480 rep.gary.hicks@capitol.tn.gov

 

Rep. Harold M. Love, Jr. (D-Nashville): 615/741-3831 rep.harold.love@capitol.tn.gov

 

Rep. Gerald McCormick (R-Chattanooga): 615/741-2548 rep.gerald.mccormick@capitol.tn.gov

 

Rep. Steve McDaniel (R-Parkers Crossroads): 615/741-0750 rep.steve.mcdaniel@capitol.tn.gov

 

Rep. Charles Sargent (R-Franklin): 615/741-6808 rep.charles.sargent@capitol.tn.gov

 

Rep. Ryan Williams (R-Cookeville): 615/741-1875 rep.ryan.williams@capitol.tn.gov

 

More reading:

http://www.chalkbeat.org/posts/tn/2…

http://www.chalkbeat.org/posts/tn/2…

http://www.azcentral.com/story/news…

 

Speak Up! Speak Out. No School Vouchers.

NO VOUCHERS

Supporters of public education, it’s time to speak up and urge your legislator to say NO to the voucher schemes currently making their way through the Tennessee legislature. Vouchers take money away from our already underfunded public schools, and they will mean cuts to services and programs provided to our public school students. Vouchers have been proven to NOT be a good investment, and do not raise student achievement. Tennessee cannot afford to chase after failed ideas! READ ABOUT THE NEGATIVE EFFECTS.

Please call your state representative to ask him or her to VOTE NO on ALL voucher legislation. If you aren’t sure who your legislator is, you can find out by entering your address here: http://www.capitol.tn.gov/legislators/

The site will give you the office phone number and email address to use to contact your legislators. Calling is easy! Just tell the staffer who answers that you are a constituent calling to ask your representative to VOTE NO on ALL voucher legislation being considered, and that you want your representative to stand up for public schools. It’s quick, painless, and lawmakers will listen when many of their constituents take the time to make this easy phone call. If you call after hours, you can leave a voice mail message. You don’t have to be a policy expert, your voice counts and a simple message is great!

For more information on the voucher legislation currently being considered by the legislature, check out these helpful links:

http://tnedreport.com/2017/03/voucher-wars/

http://lwveducation.com/vouchers-tennessee-style/

TREE Voucher Talk Points

http://tnedreport.com/2017/02/the-verdict-on-vouchers/