TN educators, parents mark huge wins against vouchers, Parent Trigger, for-profit charters


by Félix Pérez

In the end, the best efforts and deep pockets of a small army of lobbyists and out-of-state corporate ed reformers weren’t enough to derail relentless Tennessee educators, parents and their allies in their quest to defeat multiple pieces legislation that would have harmed students, educators and schools.

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When the Tennessee legislative session adjourned last Thursday, educators and their friends breathed a collective sigh of relief, for they had done what few thought possible in a state that has been a hotbed for ill-conceived education reform fads. Vanquished was a bill that would have drained school resources through vouchers, another that would have opened the door to for-profit charter school companies, and yet another that would have lowered the vote threshold for the state’s Parent Trigger law, which educators and parents describe as a back-door attempt by for-profit charter school chains to corporatize neighborhood schools.

“It was definitely a battle,” said Arlington high school teacher Lomay Richmond when describing the number of bills and their well-financed backers. “One of the things that made a difference was the constant, personal contact with legislators by teachers, parents and other education stakeholders.”

The Parent Trigger legislation, which would have made it easier to close a school or convert it to a charter school, among other options, was pushed by an out-of-state group called Students First. Sponsored by state Rep. John DeBerry, whose election campaign received more than $100,000 from Students First, the legislation did not make it out of committee. The Parent Trigger legislation popping up in states is identical or strikingly similar to model legislation by the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, a powerful and secretive organization of corporate lobbyists and state politicians that churns out model bills behind closed doors.

TEA anti-testing bannerBy contrast, a bill with significant input from teachers — which prohibits tying teacher licensure to student scores on the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System (TVAAS) — passed overwhelmingly. The bill drew Republican and Democratic support.

In addition to visits, emails, rallies and phone calls to legislators, PTA members and teachers tapped into their community connections. A petition coordinated by the Tennessee Education Association (TEA) generated 11,674 signatures and was delivered to Haslam, urging him to sign the TVAAS teacher licensure bill. Haslam signed the bill this week.

Even with the significant strides forward in the legislature, educators do not believe that the onslaught directed at public schools will stop. Teacher and TEA President Gera Summerford describes the attacks as the “march of corporatization.” Summerford, a teacher for 32 years, said recent state decisions to end collective bargaining and overhaul teachers’ due process rights “really only make sense if your ultimate goal is to destroy public education.”

Undeterred, Summerford and Richmond recognize their best option is to rally others to the defense of public schools and remain vigilant. Said Richmond:

Educators aren’t just going to sit back and take what’s given to them. We’re going to fight back.

Reader Comments

  1. I’m in the process of writing a comprehesive book on a state of the art public school model that would revolutionize public education if the right people, PUBLIC SCHOOL EDUCATORS, would get behind the pro-
    posed model and implement it somewhere as a test system. I am work-
    ing on the first, and in todays educational atmosphere, the most im-
    portant, “Public Education: The Great Equalizor”. Horace Mann, the
    Father of US public education realized that a strong PUBLIC school
    system was necessary for our great Democratic Republic. It becomes very obvious that vouchers, choice, private schools, for profit schools will lead to the wealthy and connected acquiring the best education at the expense of the masses whom will be stuck in what is left. Each public school needs to be “state of the art” no matter where located. If anyone is interested I am willing to forward the preface of the book so you get an idea of what is being proposed!! It is a book whose time has come! I’m struggling to get it done in time to be able to use it in the battle against this tide of anti-public school activism!! Thanks, Ron Brayman

    1. Hello Ron: As a dissertation/coach editor and public community college teacher who sees all kinds of horrors from my clients’ experiences, I would be very interested in your book.

      I can even help with editing, if need be.

      Jill Marie

    2. I am also very interested in your book. I run a nonprofit that raises private funds to bring equity to our disadvantaged urban public district. The entire basis of our mission is that strong public schools are the key to a strong future in our community. We’re with you!

  2. Parents, teachers, and school boards should decide what is taught and/or not taught in Tennessee schools. As it should be every states right. Big Corporations and Washington D. C. do not know what students need. The people who work with these children on a daily basis know what they should be taught. If our schools continue following Common Core, when these students graduate from college, their degree will have to be a BS in Test taking because that is what is being taught!!

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