Education Privatizers Spend About $2 million

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Roy Herron called the current private school voucher proposal another battle in the “Republican War against public schools” today at a press conference in Nashville.

Herron derided the influence of big special interests, which accounts for about $2 million of known spending in the effort to allow public tax dollars to flow into private institutions.

At least four special interest groups are spending big money to push vouchers in Tennessee, including

Herron’s prepared remarks can be read below:

I recently ran into a Californian, just moved here to “help” reform Tennessee’s education system. I wondered why his sudden concern and compassion for Tennessee’s children.

The Republicans are bringing in out of state guns to fight the Republican War Against Public Schools. And they accuse Democrats of bringing bad things from Washington— but listen to all the Washington-based outfits spending millions to buy our government to give them their way with Tennessee taxpayers.

EDUCATION VULTURES.

The Beacon Center is spending tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands on a new television ad calling for vouchers and school choice. Their funding sources include the CATO Institute and the Atlas Economic Research Foundation.

Students First already has spent $900,000 on lobbying and candidates and will spend hundreds of thousands more this legislative session on its nine (9) lobbyists.

The American Federation for Children, funded by the billionaire former chair of the Michigan Republican Party, is spending $800,000 on television, cable and radio ads.

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) spends millions and millions and pushes for “school choice.”

K-12 Inc. has no fewer than five (5) lobbyists and already admits spending as much $200,000 lobbying for “virtual schools.”

These outfits want to pilfer, plunder, and profit from the privatization of public schools and the pickpocketing of public funds.

THE REPUBLICAN WAR ON PUBLIC SCHOOLS.

Last year in the Senate, of my 20 Republican colleagues, two had children in public schools. They didn’t have any skin in the game.

The Republicans prohibited teachers and school boards from working together on pay plans, evaluating teachers, staffing decisions, and anything called “innovative.”

The Republicans now have taken ultimate authority over charters from local elected school boards and given it to political appointees in Nashville.

The Republicans have taken millions of dollars from taxpayers, and sent them through Union County to an out-of-state for-profit company which provides terrible education and test results that even the Commissioner of Education says “are unacceptable.”

Now the Vultures want to do Vouchers.

The other night I got a call from someone who’d just seen a television ad urging “school reform.” The ad is appealing—if you don’t know the truth about what’s happening.

The ad charges, “For decades, politicians were afraid to reform anything in education.” And the ad shows four Tennessee governors, but the only one of our last four was Governor Sundquist. The ad skipped over and omitted Governors Alexander, McWherter and Bredesen.

Now, whether you liked Governor Alexander or not, there’s no question but that he tried to “reform” education. Remember “Master Teacher” and “Better Schools” and “Career Ladder” and the “Star Project.”

Governor McWherter made huge reforms in education, including the BEP, the Sanders model for student testing, school superintendents appointed by elected boards, school nurses, enhanced special education, alternative schools, reduced class sizes, 21st Century Classrooms with enhanced technology, and more.

Governor Bredesen led Tennessee in the Race to the Top and Tennessee became one of the first two states in the country to win Race to the Top funding for our reforms. He also expanded pre-K education, provided for professional development for teachers, school report cards, increased student achievement standards and more.

But if, like the ad’s photos, you do want to go back to the days of Governor Clement (he served in the ’50s and ’60s), for poor children in Tennessee, free textbooks was a huge reform.

So, which of two things are the ad writers: ignorant or dishonest?

Since the money’s not from Tennessee, the ad writers probably aren’t either.
And the most charitable interpretation is they just don’t know what they’re talking about.

But that’s not all.

The ad claims: “We need real reform that puts parents in charge, so more families can put their children into good schools. Scholarships and school choice for K through 12 students.”

But what the ad does not say is that our tax dollars will be taken from public schools, leaving us with either worse schools with less funding or higher property taxes to replace lost revenues.

And what are these “good schools” they’re talking about giving (with our tax dollars) “scholarships” to? They are private schools.

Now, if it’s “school choice” you want, we’ve already got that in Tennessee. Nancy and I had the “choice” to send our children to any number of schools, including any number of public and private schools. That’s legal in Tennessee right now.

We’ve got Governor’s Schools, Magnet Schools, STEM schools, public charters, private schools, and regular public schools like our three sons attended. And I know something about the quality of education they got—and so do their college professors.

And what’s the reform “that puts parents in charge”? Nancy and I were in charge of our children’s education. We had that responsibility and that opportunity.

What we did not have was the right to siphon public money into private schools.

What we did not have was public money without public accountability.

What we did not have was the right to take your tax dollars and put them in our friends’ private pockets, take your tax dollars for segregation academies, for sectarian schools, for schools that do not have to educate all races and creeds
or any needy or disabled students at all.

Who benefits from the private pilfering of public funds? Who benefits from bad-mouthing public schools?

Our schools produce top 10 graduation rates on bottom 10 funding. Our students and teachers are doing their jobs a heckuva lot better than the politicians are doing theirs.

This is another battle in the Republican War on Public Schools. Vouchers may benefit Vultures, but they take from Tennessee taxpayers and leave our children and our state worse off.

BACKGROUND

Tennessee making gains in graduating high school students. Between 2002 and 2010, the state graduation rate went from 59.6 to 80.4 percent, gaining an average of 2.45 percent a year between 2006 and 2010. [Commercial Appeal, 2/25/13]

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