"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Kevin Huffman Huffs and Puffs: Nashville School Board Stands Strong

Tennessee has been at the forefront of backwards thinking on education for the past 20 years, and it now has a governor and General Assembly that promises to push the state deeper into the past if possible. 

Bill Haslam, the quiet oil executive billionaire who serves as governor, continues a tradition begun during the Alexander Administration for using education as the whipping boy when the Business Roundtable gets riled up or when a public display of its raw power is required to bring things back along the the lines approved by the social antiquarians who run things politically in the State.

Today we saw such exercise of raw power by Haslam's dweeby Education Commissioner, Kevin Huffman, the former Mr. Michelle Rhee, who is also a former TFA lawyer. Haslam, standing behind some polished oak door somewhere at the Governor's quarters, handed out an order for Huffman to take back $3.4 million in education funds from Nashville Metro, whose school board had the audacity to question the creation of another segregated charter school in Nashville.  The Board, it seems, voted in the majority of deny the application of the Great Hearts Charter School
 The decision was ostensibly based on poor performance by the company seeking to run the school, a "cosmetic" transportation plan, and a projected low number of special ed and ELL students.   It must be noted, however, that such concerns have not stopped the Board from approving the same kind of segregated charters in Nashville in the past.  

The difference, it seems, is that this charter was planned for a middle class neighborhood, and Board members could read the writing on the wall.  As long as the charters, of the chain gang variety, were aimed for poor neighborhoods, it was a matter of school choice, but when the public schools in the leafy suburbs are threatened with privatization by out of state lowlifes out to drain public school funds, suddenly the whole charter concept became much clearer to middle class parents.  The best face I can put on the Board's actions: Better late than never.  

Maybe now the whole apartheid system of charter schools in Tennessee and elsewhere will become visible to people who did not seem to care when other people's children were being subjected to the apartheid schooling of low quality, with six-figure CEOs serving as principals.  

So own it, Metro School Board.  Stand tall, even now, so late in the game.  Continue to tell Kevin Huffman to go to hell.  Surely he will find a place for the t$3.4 million he is denying the children of Nashville, most likely down the road in Memphis, where apartheid is not such a big deal, especially when white suburbs can start up their own gated public school systems to protect their children from the privatizers.  

Story below is by Nate Rau from the Tennessean.

Updated 12:36 p.m.

The money that state officials are planning to withhold from Metro Nashville Public Schools is from a pool of funds that pays for many services related to students, according to a statement released by the school system just after noon today.

The roughly $3.4 million in non-classroom administrative funds that state officials plan to withhold is part of a pool that includes student transportation, utilities and maintenance for 5,000 classrooms and more than 80,000 students, according to the statement.

None of those items is connected to the charter school approval process and “we are very disappointed” in the state’s action, the statement read.

The school system does not have a plan on how to deal with an October cut of more than $3 million from its budget; however, budget changes must be approved by the school board, according to the statement.

Updated 11 a.m.

Newly elected school board member Amy Frogge voted against Great Hearts. She called the Board of Education’s decision to withhold $3.4 million from Metro public schools “shameful.”

“Apparently a few people at the top are angry with five of us for voting against Great Hearts and they’ve decided to take it out on 80,000 children,” said Frogge. “This will not hurt me or the board. It will hurt the less fortunate.”

Frogge, an attorney, said she believed the board’s vote last week against Great Hearts was legal.

The state gave Metro an "unclear mandate” about the charter school, she said. On the one hand, it asked Metro to approve the school. On the other hand, it also issued three contingencies for Great Hearts approval, one being diversity, she said.

“I felt the contingencies should be met before approval,” she said. “The state raised the diversity issue. My question was, 'How are they going to comply?'”

Frogge said she would be researching the legality of the board’s decision to withhold money from a local school board.

“It’s my understanding they can’t legally withhold money,” Frogge said.

Update 8:55 a.m.

The Tennessee Department of Education plans to give the $3.4 million it is withholding from Metro Nashville public schools to other school districts, according to a statement released this morning.

The money is being withheld “as a consequence of the district’s refusal to follow state law,” the release said. The department is punishing the Metro school board because of the board’s refusal to approve the controversial Great Hearts Academies charter school even after directed to do so by the State Board of Education.

The money represents administrative non-classroom funds and will be withheld from Metro’s October allocation from the state’s Basic Education Program funding program.

“We were all hopeful that Metro Nashville’s school board would obey the law and avoid this situation,” said Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman. “It is our job to enforce state law, and we have no choice but to take this action.”

When the Metro board voted last month to defer a decision on Great Hearts even after the state board directive, state official first indicated funds could be withheld as punishment, but then backed off that idea after Gov. Bill Haslem said he thought the conflict could be settled without monetary sanctions.

The Metro school board had several chances to comply with state law, Speaker of the House Beth Harwell said in the statement. “The Metro Nashville school board had two chances to follow the law, and twice it chose to not do so. This is the consequence,” she added.

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey agreed, saying he supported the decision to uphold the law.

“The Metro Nashville school board's brazen defiance of state law limited options for thousands of Nashville parents and their children," Ramsey said in the statement. "The rule of law is not optional in Tennessee. Those who break it must be held accountable."

Updated 8:30 a.m.

The Tennessee Department of Education formally announced its decision this morning to withhold about $3.4M from the Metro Nashville school board because of the board’s refusal to approve the controversial Great Hearts Academies charter school.

The state is withholding a portion of the school system’s October administrative funds, according to a statement released by the department of education at about 8:30 a.m. today.

We were all hopeful that Metro Nashville’s school board would obey the law and avoid this situation,” said Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman. “It is our job to enforce state law, and we have no choice but to take this action.”

The department intends to reallocate the funds to other districts in Tennessee using the state funding formula.


The Tennessee Department of Education is expected to announce as early as today that it will withhold more than $3 million in education funds from Metro Nashville Public Schools in response to the board’s decision last week to reject the Great Hearts Academy charter school application.
The withheld money will come from the Basic Education Program formula, which the department uses to send state dollars to local public schools. The Nashville school board voted 5-4 last week toreject Great Hearts’ application, despite a directive from the state board that the application must be approved.
Great Hearts subsequently said it was withdrawing its application, but the department has elected to take action against MNPS.
“I certainly understand why,’’ Speaker of the House Beth Harwell said, calling the board’s decision a violation of the state law. “Our number one concern is (the board’s vote) harms children.
“This is a way to send a very clear message” to the school system.
The withheld funds are earmarked for school district administrative costs and will not have an impact on classrooms, according to multiple sources.
Department of Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman said in August that such a move by the state was possible, after the school board deferred a vote on the Great Hearts application.
Great Hearts has been at the center of controversy in Nashville this year. Though the charter chain had the support of leaders such as Huffman, Harwell and Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, among others, it was criticized by some school board members and community residents for lacking a recruitment plan that would encourage diversity among its students.
The Arizona-based charter chain sought to open a new school in West Nashville in 2014. It was the first prospective charter operator to test the new state law that opened up charter school enrollment to all students. Previously charter schools, which are publicly financed but privately operated, were options for poor students and those zoned for a failing school.
In a news release, Great Hearts hinted that it may reapply to open a charter “when Tennessee’s laws and charter approval process more effectively provide for open enrollment, broad service to the community and impartial authorizers.”
Reporter Michael Cass contributed to this story. Contact Nate Rau at 615-259-8094 or nrau@tennessean.com. Follow him on Twitter @tnnaterau.

1 comment:

  1. One sad truth about Nashville is that since court imposed busing and school desegregation began in the 1970's, most middle income and wealthy Nashvillians have divested in Metro public schools. There is little interest in public schools by Nashville's wealthy elite from both political parties. If a few white folks decide they want Great Hearts, segregation is a selling point. Sad but true.

    The private 'busing schools', as we called them at the time, popped up all over the city in church basements and office buildings faster than Baby BooBoo can blink her eyes. Franklin Road Academy, Goodpasture, Donelson Christian Academy, Harding Academy are now well established and distanced from their racist beginnings. If you see Davidson County private school start up dates between 1971 and 1972 you can be certain they were "busing schools."
    Huffman can play his sociopathic hardball with the Metro School Board with little blowback from the Nashville community. He's also signaled every other school board in the state that they'd better not defy him or they will pay. It's school 'reform' by intimidation.