Monday, February 22, 2016

The Story that Never Ran

Departing here from the usual working over issues that are not covered in the mainstream media.  Although the following story involves bad decisions by an official city body -- and have we seen a bunch of that lately -- this is a piece of Memphis history, a bit of nostalgia and a twist of fate.

The Story that Never Ran

Just how close did Memphis come to getting a National Football League team in 1974?

So close that as a 22-year-old Commercial Appeal sportswriter covering pro football, I had a story in the can, which was to run the day after the NFL made its announcement,  recounting the history of the successful effort to bring big-league football to town. 

Of course, it was a story that never ran. 

In fighting the unending battle against clutter and keeping way too much stuff,  I recently came across the 10-page hard copy of my story in a trunk stored off the garage.    

On April 24, 1974, the NFL named Tampa Bay as the location of a new franchise, and the league said a second city would be named June 4.

The Commercial Appeal had thoroughly covered efforts of local businessmen, including promoter Mike Lynn, to convince the NFL expansion committee that Memphis was the place to be – next.

We ran a story saying the deal was about to go down, per unnamed NFL insiders, and E.W. ‘Ned’ Cook was to be the owner. 

Instead, the NFL picked Seattle on June 4, 1974. 

What happened?

Although there was much gnashing of teeth and finger-pointing at the time, the Memphis Park Commission cast the city’s lot with the fledgling and short-lived World Football League on May 6, 1974,  instead of waiting one more month for the NFL to act.

After the park commission had voted 3-1 to lease Memphis Memorial Stadium to a World Football League team headed by John Bassett of Toronto, the NFL could not award Memphis a franchise for fear of a certain anti-trust lawsuit.   Besides, the lease terms that the park commission approved effectively barred another team.  If the park commission had turned down the WFL, it would have been on the city – and the NFL would not be bowling over a new team in a competing league. 

Park Commission members, including chairman E.R. ‘Bert’ Ferguson, took a bird-in-the-hand view of things.  

Some bird.

Only ad executive John Malmo voted against the lease, urging fellow commission members to wait on the NFL to come around.   Since the World Football League was a new outfit, and since its owners and cities were already being shuffled around, it seemed likely that Memphis would have ample opportunity to get a WFL team later, should the NFL fail to come through. 

Bassett, who owned TV and newspaper outlets in Canada and who was married to Carling Beer (“Hey Mabel, Black Label”) heiress Susan Carling, had famously signed Miami Dolphins Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick and Paul Warfield to give the new league credibility.  Bassett’s WFL franchise, originally the Toronto Northmen, turned to Memphis when Canadian politicians threatened to enact a law forbidding a foreign football league from entering Canada.  

In those ancient days of print journalism – you know, when every city had two major newspapers as God intended – the ongoing pro football story created an opportunity for competition between The Commercial Appeal and The Press-Scimitar.  The Commercial Appeal’s editorial position basically was, Run the WFL scoundrels out of town (which made things extra dicey for me as the beat reporter covering the team).  So, the Press-Scimitar decided to take the opposite tact and became the new team’s biggest cheerleader.  In fact, it was the Press that somehow ginned up calling the team “Grizzlies,” instead of the official name, “Southmen,” although the closest grizzly bear to Memphis is 1,500 miles.

The World Football League folded in the middle of its second season, and a spate of lawsuits with various theories from various persons got nowhere in pursuit of the NFL.  We don’t know for a dead-solid fact if the NFL would have chosen Memphis over Seattle as its next expansion city, but there is little doubt that the park commission sealed the city’s fate when it voted to lease Memphis Memorial Stadium to the WFL team, instead of waiting 29 more days. 

We have some pro “Grizzlies” now, and Memphis is happy about that.  But, amid some dried and faded newspapers shoved in a box in my garage, oh, what could have been and almost was.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Is Tennessee about to further dismantle schools and communities with another for-profit device?

The Tennessee House of Representatives may vote as early as Monday Feb. 8 on HB1049 to allow "vouchers" to take millions away from already underfunded county schools.


Find Your Legislator link and Tennessee house of representatives contacts.

Masked and misnamed as "opportunity scholarships," the idea is to give families of poor kids a fixed amount, based on the local public schools' per pupil expenditure, for one year of private schooling.

According to the state, that amount for the 2014-2015 school year was $11,221.60 in Shelby County and $11,496.30 in Davidson County.  For every other county, that amount is less -- significantly less in rural counties.    

Where is the "opportunity?"   First, there is an opportunity to prioritize profit over education.  You might ask, How is $11,000 or less a year per student enough to make a profit?

If your corporate, for-profit school gets enough funding in the early days of the school year, at which time the definitive head count is taken, and then expels students at a higher rate than public schools (which is the practice of charters), that per-student amount increases.  With fewer students, maybe you can terminate a teacher and her compensation, thus bolstering your most meaningful metric of achievement -- the bottom line.

Then, if your only corporate goal is profit, and you are paying teachers less than public or most private schools, and if you don't have a gym, or an auditorium, or a cafeteria, or a playground, or music or phys ed, you cut down your costs.  You do whatever it takes to make the numbers work, and your "students" are merely the cattle or commodity.  For a for-profit charter, two students at $11,000 each would pay for a secretary for one year; three students would pay for a classroom teacher.   

The traditional independent schools won't be accepting these students, unless the parents have the other $20,000 or whatever it takes to make up the balance of tuition.

Besides the bottom-line corporatists, the only other angle for bidding on this voucher money is political indoctrination, meaning schools which claim they are "religious" and have an agenda not to educate but to bend young minds.  

Money taken away from public schools on a per-student basis hurts them by more than the per capita amount -- they still have to run the buses, pay teachers and staff, pay utility bills, etc.  Eleven thousand dollars taken out of their hands does not reduce their costs by nearly that much.

"Opportunity" two:  Return to "separate but equal," a concept struck down by the Supreme Court in Brown vs. Board of Education.  The voucher scheme not only separates students by color and demographics, it separates them from their communities as we continue to shutter neighborhood schools.

"Opportunity" three:  Continue the assault on teachers and unions from the regressive state legislature.  Charter schools do not have to meet the standards of public schools and their teachers, and the erosion of bargaining (less pay, benefits, and prestige) pushes otherwise bright and passionate people from becoming teachers.  

"Opportunity" four:  Churn out cheap labor.  Maybe this should be number one or number two, actually.  Wealthy political forces have for years schemed to keep students out of higher education, instead diverting them to service and low-tech jobs.  This and other moves by legislatures in many states lead to a cheap labor force.

More and more people competing for fewer jobs has already made wages pitiful for many jobs and has taken away the value entirely of other jobs and businesses.  With a minimum wage currently at $7.74 per hour, that's about half of what it takes at minimum for a person to subsist in even a Southern state.

"Opportunity" five:  Make America poor.  With limited education opportunities come limited opportunities generally and for work, let alone prosperity.  America works best when the most people participate in democracy and the economy.  We built a robust middle class in the 1950s through 1970s, only to steadily erode the lot of working families since the mid-1980s.

Here is information and a call to action from TREE -- Tennesseans Reclaiming  Educational Excellence:


House Bill 1049 Advances to Full House where it will be voted on as early as Monday February 8. 
It is time to act and help us defeat vouchers. TREE would like you to call and email your House Representative, thank them for supporting public education and educate them on the destructive nature of this legislation. The bill could be heard on the House floor as early as MONDAY February 8.
Legislators say they are not hearing from parents & public school supporters. So we need your voice and we need it to be the loudest it has ever been. A phone call is the priority action. You may even hear directly from a TREE member encouraging you to personally call your representative.
We have made it easy with our take action button.
PRIORITY #1: CALL THEM OR EMAIL and mention the following:
  • Thank them for making public education a priority in Tennessee. And encourage them to continue that focus by voting no on private school vouchers. You want your public schools protected and strengthened.
  • The bill is aimed at a small group of kids in the bottom 5% of schools but once established, TN will expand the program just like every other state that has a voucher program. This bill is already focused on expanding with a clause that allows unused vouchers to go to children outside of the most needy and at risk. You do not want your county’s public school funding to be affected in the future.
  • Tell them you want solutions such as improved teacher to student ratio, Community Schools and full funding for public education which improve outcomes for ALL kids, not just a handful.
  • Numerous voucher studies show they do not improve academic outcomes. Fraud, no accountability, rising taxes to keep the program in place and fewer resources for public education is the outcome that has consistently been shown in other states and that is wrong for TN.
  • Vouchers do not empower the student with choice but rather the private school who picks and chooses who THEY want,
  • It is unfair that private schools would not have to use the rigors TNReady tests like public school do to show our tax dollars are educating children. Other tests will show pointless comparison.
  • Ask them to vote no to private school vouchers. Tell them your name and address and if you are a public school parent, let them know.
Feel free to use any of our solid research and information that shows Tennessee is proposing a program that is just another step in privatizing government services and the abandoning of our constitution calling for our state to “provide free public education, including maintenance, support and eligibility standards.”
Your favorite high-quality private schools indicated, in a Vanderbilt survey, that they will not be taking vouchers(link to survey info) There are two main reasons. First, they do not want the potential of government intrusion into their testing and curriculum. Second, the proposed voucher amount is not enough to cover the cost of private school tuition. The gap would have to be covered by raising tuition on everyone else. In Nashville, the voucher amount is a mere 20% of average tuition rates.
Remember that the “only for the poor” angle is just a short-term ruse. As we’ve seen in Florida and several other states, vouchers, just like charter schools, were expanded from “only for the poor” to families of higher income levels. Stratification and inequality are magnified in a voucher market for students without forms of social and economic capital. Vouchers have the potential to promote even more segregation and inequality than we see today. Civil rights and equality are not the true priorities for the out of state special interest groups that have poured millions into promoting a voucher program in TN to our legislators. This bill already has an expansion piece, offering vouchers to all students in a district with failing schools if the voucher allocation goes unused by the FRL population.
If your county has any schools that are in the bottom 10% you should consider your school system a target once children in Memphis and Nashville are shuffled with vouchers. There will always be a bottom 5%.
Minority Groups Are being Co-opted, poor kids in priorities schools will not be saved. From Julian Vasquez Heilig (Link to full article here.)
“In the case of vouchers, the long-term impact on civil rights is already known. A decade of peer-reviewed research in Chile has demonstrated that a voucher market has increased inequality for students living in poverty and closed public schools.
A voucher approach escalates inequality because capital rules the day. Test scores become negotiable capital in addition to hard currency. Students without this capital are denied access to attractive schools because there are other individuals in the market that are more desirable to schools.
School choice becomes exactly that in a voucher system — schools choose. So, if you are a proponent of school “choice” and interested in civil rights and equity —- vouchers will not help you realize your goals.”
Think vouchers will not expand to your county? The game plan is to expand. Last year the General Assembly passed the Individualized Education Act, a voucher bill for certain special education students where parents can receive a debit card to pay for education services if they withdraw their students from public school and waive protections for students with disabilities through the IDEA.  A year before the program is even set to go into effect and accept its first student, its sponsors have already introduced a bill to dramatically expand the program to children from any private school or even home school.  It is obvious that any parameters set on any voucher bill will quickly be undermined in an attempt to make the program as far-reaching as possible.  Don’t be fooled, any voucher bill will be expanded, which is why it must be opposed in any form. The proposed special ed expansion is here:
Why are we proposing to waste our tax dollars on a program with a failing track record? Wisconsin taxpayers have paid about $139 million to private schools that ended up being barred from the state’s voucher system for failing to meet requirements. Vouchers would be investing in a failed experiment for our most at risk. Watch this video if you want to see how bad things got in Milwaukee.
Now is the time to do something! Public school parents, teachers and supporters want policy and laws that can impact ALL students. It’s time we demand it!  Instead of an expensive voucher program for a few students in urban schools here is what urban teachers and parents want from lawmakers: Fund proven strategies — such as smaller class sizes, student support services, and opportunities in the arts and recess time — all essentials to a quality education. Special needs children, English language learners (ELL) and children struggling below grade level require many additional hours of direct teacher attention. We need to fund time with our students to learn with the focus on teaching instead of testing. We also need to value our high achievers and give them the support and resources they need to shine.
Expand local Community Schools programs creating a support mechanism for our high risk students and their families. Create more social justice discipline supports changing suspension from a ticket to prison into an opportunity for a child to find social and academic direction.
We don’t want our schools to be left behind by our legislature. We want our tax dollars to serve all children, not just those who are chosen.