Thursday, February 28, 2013

How Many Jobs Will Tennessee Lose because of Bills that Would Outsource Education?

I thought this was a legitimate question as many bills that are being steamrolled ahead in the Tennessee legislature would take education delivery away from Tennessee, resulting in Tennessee jobs being lost as we seem to be intoxicated with outscourcing.
 I sent a short piece to Tennessean opinion page, and below is what I wrote...and a couple of posts down is an expanded version of this question that we put to the governor, house speaker and house and senate education commuttees. click here for a link to the short piece in The Tennessean.
What is TN's Economic Loss from Outsourcing Education?

How much money will Tennessee lose to further education outsourcing if voucher school bills are made law?

Local CEO Bob Higgins made a good point in a recent Tennessee Op-Ed when he asked for impact studies to "better inform legislators about how changes in state law might affect Tennessee’s economy."

While some of our legislators seem to be in a great hurry to run off the voucher cliff without due diligence, our state is already paying an estimated $16 million a year to a Virginia corporation, K12Inc., for its poorly performing online school. What about the effects of even more out-of-state, for-profit corporations, which would be allowed via the vouchers? How many administrators, teachers, support staff and allied services would be taken out of Tennessee, and what would be the economic impact of those lost jobs?

Add to that charter management corporations and charter schools based out of state. Great Hearts Academy, which includes Tennessee in its national expansion plans, is based in Arizona. For each charter school they might place in Tennessee, how many Tennessee jobs would be lost, and what would be the economic impact on our state?

What would it hurt for our legislators to be more deliberative and look before they leap?

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Democrats to Stew on Education at Potluck when Williamson Schools Director Speaks Thursday March 7

"No man's life, liberty and property is safe when the legislature is in session." ---Mark Twain, 1866
What he said.  Mark Twain.  It's too true.  Dr. Mike Looney will speak Thursday night in Franklin about bills in the legislature which Williamson County Schools opposes and supports.  Two of these bills have gotten lots of attention.  Two of them you have never heard of, I bet.
Dr. Looney tells us he has only one hobby---jumping out of airplanes.  We have just one question:  Which is more dangerous, sky-diving or school board meetings?
 PHOTO: Dr. Mike Looney


 Dr. Mike Looney, superintendent of Williamson County Schools, will speak about controversial education bills in the Tennessee legislature when he is the guest of the Williamson County Democratic Party on Thursday March 7.

Looney will be joined as a guest speaker by Anne-Marie Farmer, an attorney and mother of a child in a Metro Nashville public school.  Farmer has been at the forefront of Standing Together for Strong Community Schools (, a grassroots parents organization that has protested the charter authorizer and voucher bills which are currently being moved through Tennessee House and Senate education committees.

We Ask Ed Committees: Where's Your Economic Impact Statement from Outsourcing Education?

What is TN's Economic Loss from Outsourcing Education?

This seems like a legit question, yes not one member of either House or Senate education committees, nor Gov. Haslam nor Speaker Harwell have substantially replied yet.  Well, we are waiting.  Below is the full message we sent to one and all yesterday:

Dear Rep. XXX,

Since the founding of our country, No Tax for Religion has been our principle.  I cannot see how we explain to Tennesseans that legislators would spend their tax money on someone else's religion---or an out-of-state corporation's profits.   But, the voucher bill would serve only those narrow niches, which add no nourishment to the education smorgasbord we already offer.

What's the hurry?   Has the education committee made a study of the economic impact of further outsourcing education delivery?   We already have K12Inc., a Virginia corporation whose CEO made $3.94 million last year, although they recently were caught cheating on their test reports to the state, and their education results scrape bottom.  How much money do Tennessee and our counties hand over to this outfit?  Is $16 million a year accurate?  Their sales, marketing and administrative costs are 29.8% of their revenues, so of our $16 million, $4.768 million of that includes recruiting new students to replace K12's dropouts.

Voucher Bill Moved Ahead, Charter Bill on Deck

Updating on these bills we are tracking---this coming from the Facebook page of Standing Together for Strong Community Schools.

"A group of our members attended yesterday's House Education Committee meeting during which they rolled the State Authorizer Bill to next week's meeting. Some of our members also attended the House Education Subcommittee meeting yesterday afternoon. Despite some serious concerns raised by Rep. Pitts and Rep. Forgety, legislators pushed forward with their agenda and passed the voucher bill out of the subcommittee with a 6-2 vote. Rep. Pitts and Rep. Forgety were the "no" votes and we cannot thank them enough for their tireless efforts to ensure that all children receive a free and appropriate public education."

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

State Takeover of Charter School Process Is Delayed

NASHVILLE---Did public sound and fury give pause to the Republicans' bill to knock Davidson and Shelby Counties out of the way in deciding which charter schools would be allowed to set up here?

House Bill 702 was put off today in the Education Committee's weekly meeting with Committee Chairman Harry Brooks saying there was not enough time to get into the subject and that it would be deferred until later.  The meeting room audience was dominated by opponents of the bill.

On behalf of a parents group, Standing Together 4 Strong Community Schools, parents Anne-Marie Farmer and Chelle Baldwin made statements to the committee.  The group had rallied support from the community, had put up an informational web site, created a Facebook page and had gotten others to contact members of the education committee. 

The bill also had been ardently opposed by Metro Nashville city council members and Democratic legislators from Nashville.  Nashville Mayor Karl Dean surprisingly supported the state charter authorizer plan over local decision-making by the Metro Nashville school board. 

Afterward, bill sponsor Rep. Mark White (R--Germantown) told reporters that he would reconsider changing the bill to apply to all Tennessee counties, rather than singling out Davidson and Shelby Counties. 

The bill originated with House Speaker Beth Harwell, and the intent of the bill was viewed as revenge for Metro Nashville's school board rejecting a charter school application from Arizona-based Great Hearts Academy last year.  Great Hearts appealed to the state, which then overrode the Nashville board's decision and demanded that the school board welcome Great Hearts.  The Nashville board refused, and in retaliation, the state withheld $3.4 million in state funds due to the Metro Nashville school system.

Although under present law charter schools apply through the local county school boards, there is a process to appeal to the state if a charter's application is denied.  Bill 702 would have given charter schools an option to apply directly to the state and thus jump over local input and decision-making, but only in Davidson and Shelby Counties, the state's two largest.  The bill allowed for no appeal, making the state's decision singular and final.

"You have said this bill removes politics from the process, but actually it removes democracy from the process," Farmer told the committee.  "This puts decision-making in the hands of a board of people who do not live here or pay taxes here, and they will not be affected by their decisions.

"This cuts the public out of the process," Farmer said. "I do not believe that once this door is open it will stop; this will come to affect all counties."

Referring to the Great Hearts decision, Baldwin noted to the committee that "Great Hearts does not serve those at the bottom of the achievement all measures, the Metro school board is doing everything right."  The Metro board had said Great Hearts wanted to locate in an area where the existing public schools were performing well, and the board noted that Great Hearts did not have a plan for diversity of students.

"Rep. White said this is about competition.  Rep. Glen Casada says we will experiment on Davidson and Shelby Counties," Baldwin said.

"This is not corporate America," she said.  "You cannot treat them like a business.  These children are our future.  The school board members are doing their job very well.  Let them continue."

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Little Learning, Cooking the Books, Big Profits: Is This What Privatized Education Looks Like?

Core principles were on display in the Tennessee state house this week.  More fireworks coming Tuesday Feb. 19 when education committee hears from a parents group, which is rallying its supporters, while charter and privatization lobbyists work to get out on their own visibility at high noon.

It also was a week for irony...or, is it just that we have misguided legislators? 

Irony one: Charter School Caught Cheating on Tests 

Irony Two: This is Just Like Renting Chairs---Let's Double Down on Charters

Irony Three: To Help Schools, Let's Take Away their Money

1---TV reporter Phil Williams put a local angle on K12Inc.'s nationally known misdeeds, reporting that the for-profit charter school which operates as Tennessee Virtual Academy, the state's online school alternative, was caught cheating on test scores. 

You read that right; this is not a story about students cheating.  It's cheating by the for-profit corporation so they can pull as much Tennessee taxpayer money as possible across the state line to Virginia.  K12Inc. gets paid per head, so they make money when they keep enrollment high and when it appears students are succeeding. Link to story:

Moreover, this story was nothing new about K12Inc. (LRN-NYSE), which Republicans hustled across our borders in 2011.  K12Inc. not only has a bottom-scraping rank with the education results of its students, this is far from the first time K12Inc. has made headlines for manipulating its students' grades and other information.  Because K12Inc. gets paid per head, it has an incentive to keep as many students enrolled as possible, and if the students are not logging in (attending) or if they quit or move or get scratched for poor results or whatever reason, K12Inc. revenues drop---if they report it to the states where they operate. K12Inc. shareholders have filed a class-action suit which claims the company misled investors about such matters.  The New York Times did an investigative story in 2011 and interviewed Tennessee families who had just gotten started with K12Inc.

By the way, Rep. Mike Stewart proposed to cut off K12Inc. and repeal the bill that let them in; would you believe the education subcommittee cut off Stewart's bill rather than K12?

Link to NYT story:

None of this bad news seems to rattle K12's bottom line as they recently reported quarterly profits per share rose 118 per cent from the prior year's corresponding quarter.  K12 CEO Ron Packard got paid $3.94 million in 2012.  Quarterly revenues were $206 million, up about 23.7 per cent over the prior year's quarter. 

To further geek out on K12Inc.'s recent quarterly report:

2---Let's Double Down on Charters.  Amid this news about online charter K12Inc. and with some legislators and the state education commissioner complaining about bottom-ranking results from K12, Republicans were busy fast-tracking another Go-Charter bill at an education sub-commitee meeting on Tuesday Feb. 12.

Rep. Mark White of Germantown, on behalf of house speaker Beth Harwell, introduced House Bill 702, which would set up a state "chartering authority" with the power to override the wishes of locally elected school boards in Nashville and Memphis.  

AKA Harwell's Revenge, the bill only targets Shelby and Davidson Counties as it retaliates against Metro Nashville for defying the state's demand that Nashville welcome Arizona-based Great Hearts Academy as a charter school. Memphis, with its school systems merging and dealing with issues on many fronts, gets thrown in the mix additionally---Republican legislators east of the Tennessee River think Memphis should not be part of Tennessee, anyway. 

Oh, and Shelby and Davidson are the only counties who vote in the majority for Democrats for President.  To punish Nashville, middle-school style only with money, the state withheld about $4 million in funds Nashville was due from the state.  That's about the annual pay of K12's CEO. 

White's lengthy metaphor of public education as renting chairs rated high on the jaw-drop meter.  It seemed incredible that this man was leading the state of Tennessee into radical, education legislation while stating that schools must compete like the chair rental business he operates with his brother.  White said competition must be brought into the equation, and schools thus will get better or get crushed.  Public schools are not a business---education objectives should be for the good of the community---and should not have private profit as their driving force; further, narrow tests to a wide range  of students from different types of families in different neighborhoods should not be a matter of a school's life or death.  

Presiding over the education sub-committee meeting, White hustled along his bill to the full committee, which will consider it at noon Tuesday Feb. 19 in room HHR16. 

The sub-committee rejected a plea to make the bill apply to all Tennessee counties.  As a political maneuver, the Republicans are counting on legislators from rural counties going along with party leaders and not giving a crap about a law that will not afffect them.  However, once this law and this state mechanism get set up, its next move will be into the county where you live.

Metro Nashville school board member Amy Frogge said the new law will force "shotgun weddings" by consummating marriages between Metro schools and charter schools that circumvented Metro to get approved. 

The bill is so bad that even Republican vice-chair John Forgety expressed disbelief that Republicans were going against the principle that local control is best. 

We are talking about these same Republicans who holler about states' rights and stomp their boots in defiance of anything from the federal guvmit!  Yes, the same Republicans who repeat this frame: "Don't spend money growing big government bureaucracy."  Won't this new state body have to be staffed and resourced?

By the way, even though this bill will take local matters out of the hands of two counties, Shelby and Davidson will still be expected to pay for the charter schools that slip in through this back door.

Arizona-based charter school Great Hearts Academy seems poised for national expansion, much like the growth pattern of a fast food franchise.  Former Vice-President Dan Quayle's son recently donated $1 million to Great Hearts, which is a non-profit that enjoys favored tax treatment, for a multi-million-dollar Great Hearts construction project in Arizona.  That sounds like---Wall Street, here we come!

Williamson County legislators who are not worried about this bill because they think Williamson County has good schools and, therefore, charters will never come calling, got surprised this week as an agrarian-themed charter school application announced its intentions.  So rattled was Williamson Superintendent Mike Looney that he said he would hire lobbyists to pitch the TN General Assembly.

The companion bill in the Senate is SB 830, sponsored by Dolores Gresham of Somerville.

Link to Tennessean story:

3---Let's Take Money Away from Public Schools and Privatize It or 'Theocracize' It.  Republicans are also barrelling ahead with an unconstitutional voucher bill, which would take public school money and put it into the hands of religious schools and for-profit corporations. 

The charters are run by non-profits and, so far, no religious-oriented charters have been allowed.  The voucher schools will have even less oversight than the charters as they will be independent of the local school boards.  The voucher scheme positions its schools as "private," whether they are religious or for-profit. Thus, taxpayer money would be supporting religious teachings in an affront to the First Amendment, which requires freedom of and freedom from religion.  Thomas Jefferson's "letter to the Danbury Baptists" in 1802 about a "wall of separation between church and state" is a much better metaphor than the one about renting chairs.  Link:

The vouchers sprang from American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) model legislation which has taken hold in 15 states and which is called (ironically, again) the "opportunity scholarship" program.  

Not surprisingly, we see K12Inc. surfacing in various locations as voucher programs expand nationwide.  In Washington DC, K12 has applied to have a 550-pupil school as an online-bricks and mortar hybrid for profit.  Growth potential in the U.S. education industry is putting the Wall Street wind in K12's sails.  Link:

Americans United for Separation of Church and State has a story on the voucher scheme at  The organization's web site is  The voucher bill in the house is HB 190 (sponsored by Gerald McCormick of Chattanooga), and the companion bill in the Senate is SB 196 (Mark Norris of Collierville).

The parents group, Standing Together 4 Strong Community Schools, has good info posted at
    or Facebook: Standing Together 4.
The parents urge people, regardless of your district, to voice opposition to the charter authorizer and voucher bills.  Charter bill is led by House speaker Beth Harwell, with Rep. White carrying water for her.  Harwell's phone number is 615-741-0709 and her email is:

House education committee main number 615-741-6879.  Tara is executive asst.; Rep. Harry Brooks is chairman.  Rep. John Forgety is vice-chair.

An excellent resource for legislators' contacts and for tracking bills, even for watching video of committee meetings, is the state general assembly web site:

House education committee members' email addresses:,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

Senate Education Committee members:

Last word: All of that said, what affects education results and test scores most is demographics---how much money a student's parents have and where they live.  That applies across the board, regardless of whether the school is public, private, charter, etc.  It appears we are headed back to "separate but equal," which was litigated by the Supreme Court in 1954, Brown v. Board of Education.

Just as free public education lifted America over the last 100 years with an equalizing of opportunity, which led to broad prosperity and an expansion of civil and human rights, the dismantling of free public education will accelerate the dumbing down of America, will expand poverty, will weaken our economy and will leave us with a feudal system of lords and serfs.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Bring on the Jobs and Demand Side of Best Remedy for Deficit

While Congress is generally spinning its wheels and talking about everything except reality, just for fun, let's look at something that would actually strengthen America and its workers.  Talking 'bout investing in education and solar energy development---no, wait.  That sounds too lofty.  How about a plan already in place in the U.S. House to goose job growth as a way to bolster the economy and increase revenues (decrease deficit)?

From my larger-picture view, we are a declining power, and education is being busted up and privatized---we must assure everyone a good, free education to compete globally.  When Microsoft imports 4,700 workers from foreign countries (as it did in 2011) because it says there are not enough qualified U.S. workers (Link to story:, it's a wake-up call for the future of U.S. innovation and technological leadership. 

When we have an immense defense department budget because we have about 1,000 foreign military bases in order to protect the oil for Exxon-Mobil and BP, acting as their U.S. taxpayer-funded security guard service, it's time to drop oil subsidies and incentivize solar energy innovation.  We would be able to draw down military involvement abroad and grow sustainable energy if we took that approach---one that happily scores on several levels with job growth, a cleaner planet, less military and a safer planet as we would be pissing off fewer people by closing some U.S. bases in oil lands.

Meanwhile, this "Memo to Congress" in Washington Post lays out some good sense that we have in the pipeline of Congress now:

Of course, those in Congress who want to cut spending for everyone except their corporate constituents and who bemoan the deficit as our greatest problem---when it may or may not actually crack the top 10---never complained about the deficit during the Bush presidency, when they ran up the deficit by voting, as did Marsha Blackburn, for instance, for two unfunded wars, unfunded Medicare Part D, unfunded No Child Left Behind, and unfunded tax cuts for the wealthy.