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

Sunday, March 31, 2024

TN Republicans Plan to Have Teachers Pay for School Voucher Scheme

As reality begins to set in about the public expense of using taxpayer money to fund private schools (see here and here), the brain trust for Republican House members have come up with a plan to cheat teachers out their promised raises so that there will be enough money to fund their school privatization plan.  

Instead of providing the teacher raises that Gov. Bill Lee has promised, Republicans plan to forego the raises for a cheap scheme to increase the State's portion of health insurance premiums for teachers from 45 percent to 60 percent.  

And what if you are one of the thousands of teachers who are on your spouse's insurance plan, rather than the State-sponsored plan?  Well, sorry.

From The Tennessean:

As lawmakers continue to hash out parameters for a proposed statewide school choice program, House leadership is proposing to pay for some of their proposal with a pot of money that funds teacher raises.

House leadership said Thursday their plan will fund teacher insurance at a higher level, leaving more "take-home" pay for teachers. . . 

. . . . House leadership confirmed they intend to pay for the difference with the $261.3 million in the governor's budget that right now is allocated toward TISA increases for public schools ― and also includes teacher salary raises ― "through a reallocation of the funding proposed by the Governor," Sexton spokesperson Connor Grady told The Tennessean in a text message.


Thursday, March 28, 2024

KIPP St. Louis Teachers Still Seeking Fair Contract

 From the St. Louis/Southern Illiois Labor Tribune:


St. Louis – Still fighting for a first contract, educators from KIPP St. Louis High School, represented by American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Local 420, attempted to deliver a petition Feb. 22 to district leaders outlining their key concerns as contract negotiations drag on.

Officials at the district headquarters at 1310 Papin St. in downtown St. Louis refused to accept the petition but did agree, earlier in the day, to return to the bargaining table with union members.

Teachers and staff at KIPP High School organized in December of 2022. It took KIPP administrators seven months to come to the bargaining table, but after five months of on-and-off negotiations, bargaining had all but ground to a halt.

Now teachers and staff are calling on administrators to work collaboratively to improve the educational experience for students.

“We are dedicated to providing our students with the high-quality education they deserve,” said Nate Gibson, a KIPP history teacher and member of the bargaining team. “However, we face significant challenges in achieving this goal without a stable and empowered staff. We believe that by working together with district leaders, we can find solutions that address our concerns and create a thriving learning environment for all.”

The petition, signed by a majority of the school’s teachers, emphasizes three main areas of concern:

  • A Safe and Stable Learning Environment. The petition highlights the importance of a consistent and structured learning environment for students. It emphasizes the challenges created by high staff turnover at the charter high school and calls for solutions that ensure stability and continuity for students.
  • Educator Voice and Decision-Making. Educators seek greater involvement in shaping the school environment, including curriculum, programming, safety protocols and professional development opportunities. They believe that their expertise and insights are essential for creating and effective and thriving school community.
  • Compensation and Working Conditions. The petition calls out the disparities in compensation and working-hours between KIPP and other schools in the area. Educators believe that addressing these disparities is crucial for attracting and recruiting qualified staff, ultimately benefitting students.

“The school is suffering a 50 percent turnover rate that prevents the teachers from meeting the students’ needs,” said AFT Organizer Ben Harmon.

“A lot of times people look at this as just the teachers issues, but teachers didn’t become teachers to become wealthy. They care about what they do, and students needs are teachers’ needs. If the teachers needs can’t be met how do we meet the students’ needs?”

“We need a contract,” said Kurt Johnson, an English teacher at KIPP. “Too many teachers and staff members are leaving. It’s creating a situation that’s unsafe, because it’s creating too much teacher turnover. That’s unsafe for teachers and students. It’s not allowing us to do what we want to do, which is to create an environment where all of our students learn. We need to see movement on this contract.”

Johnson said teachers and prospective employees need a reason to stay, Johnson said and that starts with being competitive with the school districts surrounding the high school.

“At the beginning of the year we had multiple people leave for St. Louis Public Schools because they could make more money. We just don’t have anything to counter that and it’s creating a situation where the students don’t have enough certified teachers.

“For the first semester, I think there were two 10th grade certified teachers that made it through the whole semester. That’s only two subjects where students are getting certified teachers. They have seven periods a day. They’re taking these online classes for essential courses like math and science because there’s no teacher. To me, the problem is really about our students. It’s about being able to provide an education and make sure that we have a competitive offer for teachers to stay.”

Adelina Blood, who teaches English as a second language, started at KIPP in August of last year.

“Since then, in a semester and a half, there’s already been 10 teachers leave,” she said “That’s really unstable for not only the school but the education of the students. It creates an unsafe environment to have that many new teachers come in who don’t know the students and how the school works. What we’re trying to do is stabilize everything. We’re trying to make sure that we also have a voice and we can be listened to. We’re trying to make sure that we get heard and that the students get the best education that they can.”

Leonette White-Hilliard, a member of the teachers’ bargaining committee, said KIPP administrators are not bargaining in good faith.

“We’ve tried to meet in good faith,” she said “But they’re not really, honestly trying to come to a conclusion with the bargaining. Some things I thought would be fairly common sense, like a third party arbitrator deciding  any disputes. We’re still at loggerheads after a year over even something that simple. That would be a protection for both the school as well as the teachers. That would be something that protects everybody.

“It makes me as an individual question is this really good faith or are they hoping this problem with go away?”

Sunday, March 24, 2024

Tennessee Taliban Set to Pass Law to Keep the Sky from Falling

If anyone in the nation or the world were looking for a place as backward as Afghanistan under the Taliban--a place as hostile to science, as committed to a single religio-political dogma based on hate, oppression, corruption, and revenge--one would need to look no further than the knoll whereupon sits the State Capitol of the State of Tennessee.  For this, my home state, is where the Tennessee Taliban convenes each year to decide the laws for a politically and culturally diverse state that is now misrepresented by a political minority that holds a super majority.  

And despite values and beliefs of the majority of Tennesseans, a corrupt mob of ignorant hicks, swindlers, and bible thumpers are committed to the legislative agenda of a handful of fascist billionaires who achieve their self-serving agendas by successfully fanning the flames of fear and bigotry and by buying the services of state and federal politicians to conduct their dirty business. 

See the big success of the week as the Tennessee Taliban advances a bill to make Tennessee the first state in the nation to pass a law to ban "chemtrails," something that only exists in the heated imaginations of paid conspiracy theorists, intellectual midgets, and political wackos. 

From USA Today, via the Tennessean:

The Tennessee Senate has passed a bill targeting "chemtrails."

SB 2691/HB 2063, sponsored by Rep. Monty Fritts, R-Kingston, and Sen. Steve Southerland, R-Morristown, passed in the Senate on Monday. The bill has yet to advance in the House.

The bill claims it is "documented the federal government or other entities acting on the federal government's behalf or at the federal government's request may conduct geoengineering experiments by intentionally dispersing chemicals into the atmosphere, and those activities may occur within the State of Tennessee," according to the bill.

The legislation would ban the practice in Tennessee.

If your bullshit detector just went off, then you're still awake.  See this link to get the facts.

Thursday, March 14, 2024

No Excuses for IDEA Charter Schools Theft of Public Funds?

Based on the No Excuses KIPP Model for chain gang schooling of brown and black children, IDEA Public [sic] Schools was founded in 2000 by two former Teach for America recruits, Tom Torkelson and JoAnn Gama.  The new corporate charter chain saw explosive growth, becoming the largest charter chain in Texas, with 36 schools and 19,000 students by 2015. By the end of 2024, IDEA plans to have 143 schools and 80,000 students in Texas, Louisiana, Florida and Ohio.

Early in 2019 the U. S. Department of Education handed IDEA Charter Schools, Inc. a five-year grant for $116 million, ostensibly to open new charter schools. 

By December of the same year, IDEA's corporate board under the direction of IDEA's CEO, Tom Torkelson, had voted unanimously to lease an eight-passenger private jet for $15 million to, well, jet around. When the story came to light, thanks to the Houston Chronicle, the plan was canceled. 

Ah, well, that didn't stop the high rollers at IDEA from spending $400,000 a year for sky boxes to watch the San Antonio Spurs or for other luxuries that were brought to light by a forensic review in 2021.

Co-founder TomTorkelson took his money ($900,000 in severance) and ran in 2020, followed a year later by the firing of the other co-founder, JoAnn Gama, and a number of other corporate welfare queens and kings.  

Even so, the corruption persisted.  Which led to further investigation by the Texas Education Agency (TEA).  That investigation wrapped up in late January, and the San Antonio Report reported on March 6 that TEA has appointed two conservators to oversee operations.  No indictments, no slaps on the wrist, no criminal referrals.  

As a condition, I suppose, of no one at IDEA getting an orange jumpsuit, IDEA has agreed to pay back $28.7 million in federal funds. Why, you ask. No explanation by TEA, which remains a cheerleader for IDEA, so much so that IDEA, specializing as it does in cultural sterilization of brown and black children, has announced a building boom moving forward.

Monday, March 11, 2024

What Did KIPP Leaders Know, and When Did They Know It?

  • Are there former students and/or teachers who are willing to share their stories (anonymously if you so choose) about Charlie Randall or his protege and now-convicted child sexual abuser, Jesus Concepcion? If you would like to share your story, please contact me via email: ontogenyx@gmail.com

Straight out of undergraduate school and fresh from two year stints with Teach for America (TFA), Mike Feinberg and David Levin found themselves in 1994 running their own school program in an elementary school in Houston, TX. They called their new program KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program), and with the help of the rich white elites who were bankrolling TFA, Levin and Feinberg quickly became media darlings and the next great white hopes for solving the urban "Negro problem" that white America had fretted about since Emancipation.

The next year KIPP Houston became a separate school under the direction of Mike Feinberg, while David Levin was handed his own school program in New York City, where the white, privileged, and fresh-faced Yale graduate found himself face-to-face with Bronx indigenous cultures entirely foreign to Levin and the other white teachers who were hired to build the first KIPP franchise beyond Houston.

Hoping to garner public attention to KIPP's program, Levin and the NYC Board of Education brought in the renowned school orchestra director, Charlie Randall, who gained fame from his work at a neighboring school in the Bronx, I.S.166.  Randall, who had been a music teacher since the early 70s and the founding director of the I.S.166 orchestra since 1980, brought Levin a skill set that he would desperately need in order to make it in the Bronx. Randall brought PR skills, charisma, street savvy, and local knowledge that Levin did not have and that he came to depend upon in his new position of leadership.  

Charlie Randall also brought with him an attraction to middle school girls, as well as a bad drinking problem.  According to allegations from an anonymous source interviewed by Gary Rubenstein, Randall openly engaged in lascivious behavior among KIPP students, behavior that would have gotten him fired and reported to authorities under normal circumstances. Instead, KIPP eventually promoted Randall and put him in charge of starting orchestra programs at other KIPP schools around the country.  According to Rubenstein

[t]he source, claiming to have firsthand knowledge, alleges that multiple witnesses, including numerous KIPP teachers and leaders, observed Charles Randall’s misconduct but did not report the egregious behavior exhibited by both Randall and Jesus Concepcion.

One account from the source states, “Randall would frequently arrive at school intoxicated. He kept a bottle of Johnnie Walker Black in the orchestra room and even offered us shots.” Additionally, the source mentioned, “He would often make sexually suggestive remarks about our bodies, accompanied by licking his lips, and the teachers witnessed this behavior but never intervened. It seemed as though no one cared until he began harassing the teachers. It was only then that he was eventually removed from KIPP Academy and reassigned to a national position.”

So I have questions:

  • In 2018, the KIPP Foundation was eager to fire Mike Feinberg for alleged sexual misconduct and other inappropriate behaviors.  Will KIPP fire the other founder this time around in 2024 for his alleged complicity?
  • Who was aware of Randall's misconduct while at KIPP, either in New York or at the other KIPP schools?
  • Are there former students and/or teachers who are willing to share their stories (anonymously if you so choose) about Charlie Randall or his protege and now-convicted child sexual abuser, Jesus Concepcion? If you would like to share your story, please contact me via email: 






Tuesday, March 05, 2024

TN School Voucher Bill Will Cost Taxpayers Billions, Part 2

As with most school privatization plans, Tennessee legislators can count on a stable of bare-knuckled billionaires and millionaires to provide the cash to drive the current school voucher scheme that appears destined to become law--unless citizens who support public education raise enough hell to stop it.

The legislation (HB1183/SB0503) will provide, during the 2024-25 school year, just over $7,000 in state funding for 20,000 of Tennessee's just over one million K-12 students (including private school students). In Year 2 (2025-26), any or all of the parents of Tennessee's one million+ students may sign up.

Of the 20,000, half will be made available to students whose families’ income are below 300% of the federal poverty level, students with disabilities, and those who meet eligibility requirements for the existing ESA pilot program. The remaining 10,000 will be made available to any student currently entitled to attend a public school. 

Beginning in the 2025-26 school year, eligibility for the program would be opened to all Tennessee students, regardless of income or previous school enrollment. If demand exceeds available funding, previously enrolled program participants, low-income students, and students enrolled in public schools would be prioritized.

Based on conservative estimates of the Tennessee General Assembly Fiscal Review Committee, the costs will be staggering:

The total amount of scholarships awarded will result in an increase in state expenditures
estimated to be:

o $141,500,000 (20,000 x $7,075) in FY24-25;
o $343,147,000 (47,000 x $7,301) in FY25-26; and
o Exceeding $343,147,000 in FY26-27 and subsequent years.

If the voucher scheme led to 10 percent of Tennessee students in private schools by 2027 and moving forward, that would mean an additional $700,000,000+ every year for a state that is ranked 44th among states for K-12 funding.

How Will Local Education Agencies (LEAs) Be Affected?

Because the Republican voucher scheme does not include a hold-harmless provision, local school systems will be required to absorb the loss of state funding for their students who move to private schools. The information below is from the Tennessee General Assembly Fiscal Review Committee's Fiscal Memorandum, dated February 26, 2024:

The proposed legislation does not contain a hold-harmless provision for LEAs that
experience a decrease in local revenue due to students leaving the LEA to attend private
schools . . . .

Based on school voucher data from other states, the scholarships available to students
who are not subject to household income restrictions will be awarded to 60 percent of
students from private schools and to 40 percent of students from public schools . . . .

The total local decrease in revenue and decrease in state expenditures is estimated as

$101,525,200 ($89,905,200 + $11,620,000) in FY25-26; and

Exceeding $140,710,480 ($124,598,880+ $16,111,600) in FY26-27 and
subsequent years.

A loss in TISA funding would not necessarily be offset by avoiding the cost of educating
the student. Any offset or decrease in local expenditures would depend upon whether
certain cost-savings could be realized through staff reductions or service and resource

However, it is assumed that LEAs will maintain spending levels despite a decrease in
student enrollment (pp. 3-5). 

In short, school systems who lose 10-15 percent of their students still must maintain physical plants, transportation systems, maintenance programs, and instructional programs for 85-90 percent of remaining students.  For a largely rural state, these costs could be devastating to budgets that are already bare bones.

 Do Vouchers Offer Improved Test Scores?

This new voucher scheme will be layered on top of the previous one that was implemented during the 2022-23 school year.  The data from Spring 2023 state tests demonstrate that the current push for school privatization is not driven by a desire for academic improvement:

In 2023, only 11.3% of program participants scored proficient on the math section of TCAP, compared to 33.7% of public school students. Similarly in English language arts, 22.8% of ESA recipients scored proficient, while 38% of public school students hit the benchmark.


Monday, March 04, 2024

TN School Voucher Bill Will Cost Taxpayers Billions

When it comes to state funding for public schools, Tennessee consistently ranks among states around 44th. In 2023, Tennessee earned an F in funding level, an F in funding effort, and a C in funding distribution.  

When it comes to state support for school vouchers, however, Tennessee is pushing to be among national leaders.  And if the current school voucher legislation passes that is now being crammed through the legislative process, Tennessee funding for public schools will take another huge hit.  

How big a hit?  Conservatively, the Republican voucher program, which they call Education Freedom Scholarships (EFS), will result in annual state expenditure increases of over $340,000,000.  So every three years Tennessee taxpayers will pay over a billion dollars for 2-5% of Tennessee's K-12 students to attend private schools, either secular or sectarian.

The information below is from a memo dated February 26, 2024 by the Tennessee General Assembly Fiscal Review Committee.

• Due to the universal nature of the program, it is assumed that students already attending
private school will seek the additional funding through the EFS Program.
• Based on school voucher program data from other states and the large pool of private
school students that would be eligible for the EFS, it is estimated that 47,000
scholarships will be awarded in the 2025-26 school year.
• The EFS Program is projected to grow in subsequent years following the 2025-26 school
year. However, due to the lack of multi-year data from other school voucher programs
across the country and different factors amongst those programs, a precise growth
estimate cannot reasonably be determined.
• The total amount of scholarships awarded will result in an increase in state expenditures
estimated to be:
o $141,500,000 (20,000 x $7,075) in FY24-25;
o $343,147,000 (47,000 x $7,301) in FY25-26; and
o Exceeding $343,147,000 in FY26-27 and subsequent years.
• The estimated annual growth in the program is conservative due to a limited amount of
data from other states with similar programs and the inability to establish participation
trends in those programs.
• Without a limitation on the number of participants beyond year one of the program, the
fiscal liability to the state created by the proposed legislation is significant.
• Should all 105,503 private school students receive a scholarship in FY25-26 (year two
of the program), the fiscal impact for FY25-26 would be an additional increase in state
expenditures of $572,506,018 [(105,503 x $7,406) - (47,000 x .60 x $7,406)] (p. 3).