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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

Call to Action: Write TN State Board of Ed TODAY! Be a Voice for Local Control

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Attention Nashville and Tennessee Education Advocates! We need you to write the Tennessee State Board of Education TODAY! Be a voice for local control. Metro Schools recently approved two of fourteen charter applications.  Among the ten who were denied were KIPP, Rocketship and The International Academy of Excellence.

The International Academy of Excellence filled out an incorrect form and should have not been considered at all but was for legal reasons. These three charter companies are asking the State Board of Education to overrule the Nashville school board and divert funds from the Metro Schools budget to pay for opening their six proposed charter schools.

If you would like to see the local school board retain the ability to decide how to spend local tax dollars, and what schools should operate in Nashville, you must speak up NOW. Public comments are being received until October 7. Please copy this email into your email recipient box:
CharterSchool.Appeals@tn.gov

It is fine to be brief. A few points you might to make:

1. Note if you are a Nashville taxpayer and/or public school parent.
2. Nashville currently has 8,112 charter school seats and will open another 8,157 over the next few years, under current approved charter contracts, effectively doubling the amount of charter school seats without ever approving another charter.
3. There is no evidence of demand for more charters and in fact there are currently many empty seats in Nashville charter schools.
4. If the state board of education overrules the local school board, it will force our city to fund a privatized public school.  A school that can not be shut down by our locally elected board if problems arise.
5. Nashville must be free to put its schools budget to the best use to improve education for ALL students. Under the law MNPS must adhere to their contract with approved charters and fully fund them.  Whatever amount is left gets divvied up among the remaining schools in the district continuing the trend of systematic under-funding which means not meeting the needs of our schools.

Thank you for your time and quick attention. Your voice is needed TODAY!
TREE

Urge Gov. Haslam to Veto the IEP Voucher Bill

On Wednesday, the Tennessee House approved HB 138/SB 27 by a slim, three-vote margin. This IEP Voucher Bill puts our most vulnerable children at risk and lacks any mechanism to ensure academic achievement or the safety of the children who are eligible to access it. We would like to thank the following state representatives who recognized that this bill is bad policy and voted against it:

Akabari, Alexander, Armstrong, Beck, Byrd, Cafee, Camper, Carr, Clemmons, Coley, Cooper, Doss, Dunlap, Eldridge, Farmer, Favors, Fitzhugh, Forgety, Gilmore, Halford, Hardaway, M. Hill, Hulsey, Jones, Keisling, Love, McDaniel, Miller, Mitchell, Parkinson, Pitts, Powell, Ramsey, Sanderson, Shaw, Shepard, Stewart, Swann, Towns, Travis, Turner, and Windle.

Now is the time to contact Governor Haslam and ask him to veto this bill, which sets the stage for potential abuse, fraud, and neglect of our most vulnerable children.

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4/13/2015 Update on Education Bills in the Legislature

This year’s legislative session is drawing to a close over the next couple weeks, and we can’t thank you enough for speaking out against vouchers. We know we’ve asked you to contact legislators several times but it’s so important that our lawmakers hear voices other than the big money organizations that attempt to pit elected officials against our schools.

A Couple Questions We Hear

Why do we hear almost exclusively about what’s happening in the House instead of the Senate?
The Senate, quite frankly, is a lost cause in many cases. The composition of the Senate is such that bad education legislation rarely gets robust debate let alone a competitive vote. Vouchers, for example, passed the Senate Education Committee 8-0, the Senate Finance Committee 9-2, and the full Senate 23-9. It racked up similar tallies last year. As a result, we choose to focus primarily on the House.

Why are we asked to contact legislators so many times about the same bill?
Not only do bills often go through several committees and subcommittees, but votes can be delayed several times for any reason. As a result, we make multiple asks both because different requests go to a different group of legislators and because we want to keep the issue fresh on legislators’ minds.

Here’s where various pieces of harmful legislation stand:

Vouchers (HB 1049)
This bill creates a statewide school voucher program that the legislature estimates will cost local schools $70 million per year. In the House, the bill passed the reform-friendly Education Administration Committee. It later went through Government Operations Committee (which does not have the power to kill a bill), who amended the bill to delay its effective date. It next goes to the Finance Subcommittee (a/k/a Budget Subcommittee) on April 14. The Senate passed this bill, slightly amended, on March 30. (It also passed vouchers last year.)

IEP Supervouchers (HB 138)
This bill creates a supervoucher program for all 120,000 students who have a special education IEP – an individualized education plan. (Some children receive IEPs for relatively simple – and easily correctable – issues, such as incorrectly producing the /r/ sound.) These supervouchers allow parents to pull the education dollars intended for their child’s education and put it toward any unaccredited, unproven, and unaccountable use that can be argued is educating or treating the child. In the House, the bill sneaked through the reform-friendly Education Programming Committee 7-6. It was heard in Government Operations Committee on April 7 but a vote was delayed until April 14. The Senate Finance Committee is scheduled to hear this bill as well.

ASD Expansion (HB 473)
This bill allows ASD charter schools to recruit high-achieving students from high-quality public schools to help make ASD schools not look like a failure. In the House, the bill will be heard in Finance Committee on April 14. It is awaiting a floor vote in the Senate.

For-Profit Charter Schools (HB 781)
This bill allows charter schools to be run by for-profit corporations. In the House, the bill was delayed until 2016 in the Education Programming Committee. The bill made it to the floor in the Senate but will not be voted on this year.

Parent Trigger (HB 651)
This bill makes it easier for a group of parents to have their school converted into a charter school. In the House, the bill was pulled from consideration for this year. In the Senate, the bill is awaiting a Finance Committee vote.

Here’s where various pieces of helpful legislation stand:

Second Chance for Priority Schools (HB 921)
This bill prohibits the ASD from taking over a school if a priority list school not yet marked for ASD takeover either a) quantifiably improves its test scores and assigns a new principal or b) converts the school to a community school. Sponsored in the House by Rep. Raumesh Akbari and in the Senate by Sen. Reginald Tate (co-sponsored by Sen. Steve Dickerson), this legislation passed the Senate unanimously and is scheduled for a vote in the House Finance Committee on April 14.

Ban on Mandated Standardized Tests for K-2 (HB 983)
This bill bans state or locally mandated standardized testing on students in kindergarten through second grade. Sponsored in the House by Rep. Matthew Hill (co-sponsored by Rep. Bo Mitchell) and in the Senate by Sen. Frank Niceley, this legislation did not come up for a vote.

ASD Abolition (HB 508)
This bill eliminates the achievement school district (ASD) at the end of the 2015-16 school year. Sponsored in the House by Rep. Bo Mitchell and in the Senate by Sen. Thelma Harper, this legislation did not come up for a vote.

Banning ASD Mission Creep (HB 856)
The bill prohibits an ASD school from expanding to additional grades (e.g., converting from a high school to a middle and high school) and prohibits the ASD from recruiting students from other zones. Sponsored in the House by Rep. Bill Beck and in the Senate by Sen. Thelma Harper, this legislation was killed by the House Education Administration Committee.

Regulating ASD Takeovers (HB 920)
This bill prohibits new ASD schools from taking over a single grade at a time, causing conflict by having two schools in the same building. Sponsored in the House by Rep. Raumesh Akbari and in the Senate by Sen. Reginald Tate, this legislation did not come up for a vote.

The legislature is expected to shut down for the year after a couple fast and furious weeks of bill shuffling. We’ll keep you posted and continue to ask for your support of our schools!

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Follow TREE & Take Action to Support TN Public Ed

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The new legislative session has begun in the Tennessee General Assembly, and your state Senators and Representatives will be considering many proposals regarding public education.

The volunteers at TREE are ready to again closely follow important education legislation and provide you with reliable information and updates, as well as make it as easy as possible for you to contact key legislators and make your voice heard.

Please encourage your friends and neighbors who support Tennessee public schools and students to sign up for news and updates by entering your email at https://treetn.org/ and follow us at https://www.facebook.com/TNExcellence and on Twitter @TNExcellence. Also be aware of the hashtag #tnleg for all the latest at the state capitol.

And please take just a couple of minutes to introduce yourself to your Senator and Representative. Let them know that you stand up for strong public schools in Tennessee, that you oppose excessive standardized testing, vouchers, and turning our schools over to private interests, and that they will be hearing from you during the legislative session.

Find your legislators and their email addresses easily at https://treetn.org/act/  Save those email addresses and get ready to speak up for Tennessee public education!

With thanks for your support,

The TREE team