Haslam: State takes no pleasure in keeping funds from Metro over Great Hearts

Tuesday, September 18, 2012 at 3:12pm

Gov. Bill Haslam told reporters Tuesday that withholding $3.4 million from Metro Nashville Public Schools following its rejection of Great Hearts Academies’ charter proposal “was not a decision that anybody at the state takes any pleasure in.”

“But we also think that we are a state of laws,” Haslam added, as he stood next to House Speaker Beth Harwell, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and state Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman. “When state law is violated –– really on a decision not once but twice –– after proper warning from not only us as the state but also from the board’s own attorney, we felt like it was very important to act.”

Haslam, Huffman and Republican leaders, on hand at the Adventure Science Center Tuesday for a different press announcement, defended the state’s move to withhold $3.4 million in non-classroom, BEP funding as a simple matter of enforcing state law.

“We don’t do this with any sense of trying to use the state’s power in any way,” Haslam said. “But like another state law that the General Assembly passes, we’re responsible for enforcing that law, and that’s why we took this action.”

Haslam said the action is aimed “as much as possible” at ensuring the loss of funds doesn’t affect students. State officials say the $3.4 million is equal to Metro’s October portion of “administration costs” that come from BEP funds.

But in an MNPS statement, the local school district suggested the funds would affect children nonetheless.

“BEP is a funding formula and not a spending plan, so there are no funds earmarked for ‘administrative costs,’ the MNPS statement reads. “The BEP formula for non-classroom expenses includes utilities, student transportation, maintenance and other things that directly affect our 81,000 students and 5,000 classrooms.

“We do not yet have a plan on how we will respond to this disruptive mid-year cut.”

The Haslam’s administration move comes nearly one week after Phoenix-based Great Hearts announced it would be abandoning its charter proposal for West Nashville after it met a fourth round of resistance from the Metro school board. The local board twice opted against approval — most recently, last Tuesday — despite a state board of education order to authorize.

As of Tuesday morning, Huffman and Metro Director of Schools Jesse Register still hadn’t talked to each other about the decision to withhold funds, Huffman said.

Huffman, whose support for Great Hearts can be traced back for months, alluded to a prior meeting following the local board’s Aug. 14 vote to defer Great Hearts’ charter application.

“We were quite clear about what the possible outcomes would be if the law was violated again,” Huffman said.

Haslam told reporters Tuesday that his administration “talked about certain things” when asked whether other options besides monetary punishment were considered. Neither he nor Huffman elaborated.

Metro school board members who voted against Great Hearts in a 5-4 vote last week objected to Haslam’s move.

“I acted legally and I did what I believed was right and fair for all children, not just a few children,” board member Amy Frogge said. “We did not act in defiance of the state but to ensure compliance with the written terms of the state mandate.

“Apparently, a few people at the top want to punish five of us who voted against Great Hearts and they decided to punish 80,000 children,” she said.

Mayor Karl Dean, a Great Hearts backer, called the state’s action the “predictable result” of the Metro board’s “refusal to obey the law.” Dean did not criticize the state’s action.

“Sadly, once again, it is the children who will suffer, not just from being denied another high quality educational choice but also from the state’s plan to withhold funds,” Dean said. “In the final analysis, this boils down to an issue of responsibility and accountability on the part of our schools.”

Great Hearts officials have said they are hopeful the state would take action to allow the charter organization to apply with a different “impartial charter authorizer.” Charter supporters have said they plan to push for legislation that would enable a new statewide charter authorizer that would effectively negate the role of local school boards.

Haslam didn’t rule out backing a statewide charter authorizer during the next legislative session.

“Prior to this, I don’t think there was a lot of political momentum around it,” Haslam said. “We’ll have to see how the General Assembly reacts to it this year.”

The Great Hearts dispute has turned into a partisan issue at the state legislature, with Republicans like Ramsey and Harwell defending the retraction of funding, and Democrats blasting the decision.

Harwell, who represents constituents from affluent Nashville neighborhoods that supported Great Hearts, said she’s “very disappointed” in the Metro school board’s actions.

“Largely, I’m hearing from the public that they want choice for their schools,” Harwell said. “This was one avenue of choice that they would like to have seen in West Nashville.”

Democratic state Rep. Mike Stewart, however, hammered the withholding of funds from Metro, arguing that “until now” local districts had the autonomy to “decide for themselves” how to invest in charter schools.

“What a terrible precedent it is for the commissioner of education to now reach into Nashville and take tax dollars from Nashville citizens because he personally doesn’t agree with the elected representatives of the people,” Stewart said.

“Commissioner Huffman has shown that he is not really interested in being an administrator but is a radical zealot of often controversial education ideas and has consistently shown a complete indifference to the actual desires of the taxpayers who pay for the schools,” he said.

20 Comments on this post:

By: Badbob on 9/18/12 at 1:58

Republicans are all for smaller government, local control, until it cuts into their bribes and control.

By: JeffF on 9/18/12 at 3:05

The easy solution for MNPS would be not to suck. If they did not suck as a whole then they would not be under the charter school gun. Now they will have to suck for a little less money then they were going to suck for previously.

The state may be the wisest government to run our schools. The suck schools are in Memphis and Nashville (with a couple more in Chattanooga). Exclude those suck schools and suck school systems from the statewide averages and Tennessee does not suck. Maybe our neighboring counties know something about not sucking that they can teach us here in Nashville and over in Memphis. Money is not the answer since we spend more than almost every other community for the least actual return.

Of course supporters of the MNPS will point to the glorious Hume Fogg "Academic School" as to what MNPS is capable of. Of course, if it was something MNPS did would they not be able to repeat it at least once? Watch out though, the hicks from the sticks who you hate have taken over the state and they are far better educated then the Nashville populous, thanks to the last 40 plus years of MNPS success.

It appears the entire mission statement can be summed up with once sentence, "Try not to suck as much as Memphis and keep the status quo"

By: pswindle on 9/18/12 at 4:06

What a bunch of bull from your elected oficers. Surely, we have better people that we could elect. What a shame that the big bullies can pick on the little guy. Haslam, Harwell,Ramsey. Hiuffman should hang their heads in shame. I hope the School Board keeps standing up for what is right for Metro. I'm proud of the School Board, but I' afraid that they will cave under psressure. This is the worse leaders that we have ever had in the great state of TN. What else can they take from us?

By: JeffF on 9/18/12 at 5:50

while we feel pride over our board for tilting at wind mills, there are 92 other counties where pride in school boards is earned when they run schools that educate and graduate most of their kids. Hooray for our principals.

By: JeffF on 9/18/12 at 5:51

while we feel pride over our board for tilting at wind mills, there are 92 other counties where pride in school boards is earned when they run schools that educate and graduate most of their kids. Hooray for our principals.

By: ancienthighway on 9/18/12 at 6:32

While I understand that some people see charter schools as the solution to the problems our education system have, I can only disagree with them. Charter schools are run by a private company with stakeholders interested in increasing their wealth. They receive tax monies to run these schools. Sounds like corporate welfare to me.

Now since State and Metro disagree with the best way to educate out children, the State withholds funds for Metro to run the public schools. I wish someone at the State level would explain how less money for the schools is going to provide better education. It's more of a self fulfilling prophesy proving that public education in Nashville cannot succeed in educating out children.

I believe the truth is more in terms of the Republican government going with the money in terms of future campaign contributions and additional perks that may come with the office.

By: Ask01 on 9/18/12 at 6:54

While I claim zero respect for any individual politician or political body, I suspect the State of Tennessee could multiply money for Metro schools exponentially with no discernable effect on achievement.

From what I have read, Washington D.C. spends more money per student than any other school system in America, yet the scores are utterly dismal. This indicates, to me anyway, monetary expenditures are not a reliable gauge of academic achievement.

The best teachers in the country could be on staff, but if students have no interest in learning, and parents place no apparent value on education, the entire process becomes pointless.

If we could, without risking high dollar lawsuits, place all the students who have no interest in bettering themselves in school where they would be taught just enough basic skills to be minimally productive and functional in society and additionally be required to learn a trade, say carpentry, plumbing, automotive, street cleaning, etcetera, the public interest would be better served.

Students who are receptive to higher intellectual stimulation could learn in peace and politicos would be robbed of the standard, bogus justification for raising taxes, "It's for the children." (Sound all too painfully familiar and recent?"

I seriously doubt, however, that will ever come to pass.

Meanwhile we can enjoy lambasting both the State Board for withholding the money and the MNPS Board for their obstinance resulting in the withholding.

It's fun to play politician and speak with forked tongue.

By: Ask01 on 9/18/12 at 6:59

Upon reflection, I should have said 'playing poltician and talking out both sides at once.'

In that way, the phrase just seems to flow better for some reason.

By: govskeptic on 9/19/12 at 4:51

Pat yourself on the back if you thought the School Boards actions were
"sticking it to the man." Now get in your car and drive that child to
school in your own car versus a school bus. If you are a School
Board member that thought you would double down and ignore
the advice of your own legal council before voting, then explain to
your constituents how you decided to be your own "legal eagle"
on the vote as you help the Superintendent on where to cut
the budget.

By: cowboyjoe on 9/19/12 at 6:42

It seems Haslam can't go anywhere and speak about anything without Harwell and Ramsey standing there making sure little Bill doesn't do anything they don't approve of; what a leader.

By: pswindle on 9/19/12 at 9:00

Okay Gov., You made a mistake, give the money back to Metro. Under the former Governor, nothng like this would have ever happened. The state stuck it's nose where it should have never gone.

By: spadafino on 9/19/12 at 11:14

JeffF: "the state may be the best government to run our schools". I respectfully disagree with this idea. This is the same state government that rounded up all the teachers a couple of summers ago to let them know that the standards that it had been mandating all these years were far below national standards, then acted confused when teachers weren't able to ratchet student achievement exponentially in two years' time. Now these same people are confused that a local school board wouldn't accept "cuz we say so" as a valid reason to rubber stamp a charter school.

By: JeffF on 9/19/12 at 1:00

Considering the mental inferiority of the local board and its dismal track record for three generations the bar is set pretty low. Right now, the state is better because the local leadership cannot be any worse then the yahoos we elect year end and year out. Maybe if people elected board members who were not endorsed by the MNEA things would get better because the electing of the endorsed has been alarmingly bad for Metro schools.

I am begging you State of Tennessee, save us from our own "diverse" good intentions.

Wonder how the rest of the state (except Memphis as always) was able to keep things going with those same new standards? Are we as a community admitting that our kids are not as smart as those in Williamson, Blount, Anderson, Sumner, etc or are we admitting that our teachers just are not as good at keeping up with the teachers in these other counties. Knox has a somewhat diverse population but still manages to not suck.

Which is it teachers? Are our kids dumb or are you less capable than the teachers in other districts who do it better with less pay? Either way, logic tells us we should be doing something different than worrying about making sure every school sucks as long as everything is equally "diverse." Diversity got us into the situation where one must win a lottery or pay for private school to receive a valuable education. It is unbelievable to think diversity must be respected while we try to shovel ourselves out.

Anyway, a workaround is upon us:

I dare the school board to put the same obstacles in front of parents as they do for 100% of the charter applicants. The state will take away every dime at the first opportunity.

By: firstworldproblems on 9/19/12 at 1:37

JeffF: Are you serious? You can't be serious. I'm going to pretend that you aren't comparing a district with a 70% free and reduced lunch population to Williamson County, which happens to have one of the wealthiest populations in the country.

I'm also going to pretend that you aren't comparing Hume-Fogg's performance, which takes the top-performing students in the entire metro area, with every single student in the entire district. Nah, that wouldn't be an apples-to-oranges comparison at all.

See, because making those two comparisons would be completely useless. That would be asking people to create miracles. If you use trusty Google, you will see that poverty is the biggest indicator of academic struggle. You will also learn that a charter school usually does not end up doing much better than a traditional public school, over time (when doing a proper comparison of like data). Third, you will learn how to properly compare data, so that you do not confuse people into thinking that Metro "sucks" simply because it's not the sparkly, shiny school system that Williamson County is, or any other county around it, for that matter.

As for saying that a state takeover would be the best thing for Tennessee, do you really think so? What do you think the state would do?

By: firstworldproblems on 9/19/12 at 2:17

JeffF: Since you made your last post before I posted, I'll pose a few questions...

How about researching for us how many students in Williamson, Blount, Anderson, Sumner, etc come from single-family homes as opposed to Davidson? How many of those students are on food stamps as compared to Davidson? Again, to be a true comparison, we have to have numbers. Otherwise, it's useless to pit Metro against them. The populations are not the same.

No, nobody is saying that our kids are dumb. Our teachers are not dumb either. Our kids are a difficult population to teach. Let me put it to you this way, and I'm going to be perfectly honest here. Many of our students grow up in homes where their parent(s) have either no job or two jobs. So, they either think that their life is going to be about doing nothing and being on food stamps, or they think that their life is going to be working at labor-intensive jobs for minimum wage. In other words, these kids don't have any hope. College is not in their future. "Success" is not their end goal. Therefore, they don't care. Teachers cannot make them care. Parents cannot make them care. Nobody can put a pencil in their hands and force them to do work. A report card means nothing. Writing them up, suspending them, calling home...it means nothing. Some of them are counting down the days until they can drop out. Some of them are content to get their Ds and get their diploma. And that is reality. The kids aren't dumb at all. They have lost hope. And many of them are lazy. And there is not much that can be done until they make a choice to do something.

That gives the rest of the community two choices. The parents who do care, who do want their children to do well, who do support their education, could opt for charter schools. I certainly understand their reasoning for it. They would pull all of the kids who perform well, or at least have support of parents, into other schools. I get it.

Or, parents could rally around their community schools and continue to support them. Become rays of sunshine in your neighborhood. "Kill 'em with kindness." Make it so that the kids who don't care look around and see more kids doing well - Because it's infectious. We all know how much of an influence kids have on each other, good and bad. If the community rallies around the school, and more people are involved, more people are volunteering, and more kids are showing that it is "cool" to do well, and to work toward a future, it will happen. I really don't believe that the charter school movement is a great solution though, because then what? What happens to the kids whose parents don't care? Do those kids get punished by being in a so-called worse school? Isn't that segregation all over again, just of a different sort?

By: JeffF on 9/19/12 at 4:34

Does it matter how many kids are poor in Davidson county? Continuing to do the same thing and guarding the parapets to keep change from reaching education is not working. So what if charters MAY not work. What we have now is far worse, a future where our schools do the same thing they have done and hoping it will work in 5-10 years.

Nashville schools are in a ditch, maybe one they dug, maybe it was dug for them. What is the response of MNPS schools? It is not to do something different they may get them out of the ditch. we can wax philosophically all we want about the difficulties these kids have, but right now MNPS is doing nothing. NOTHING. Zero to bring change to the lives of these kids and families.

Right now the game plan for MNPS is to take hostages. Rather than improving the schools and making them a draw, they are fighting off the opportunities parents could have to make a new way for their kids. Losing the kids of these parents is viewed as a loss to the system, so they must be shackled to the desks they are zoned to. Choice is a good thing, but it will only hurt the other kids with parents that do not care enough to choose better???? Really. That is the justification for ATTEMPTING to take generation after generation after generation as hostages, binding them to the schools everyone knows are not working?

Parents in Nashville are trying to rally around their schools. MNPS is desperate because it is not the schools they have spent decades driving into the ground. My kids were not put on this Earth to be inspirations to other kids. They are here to live the best life possible for themselves. I and many other parents refuse to let the whiny, philosophical, it-takes-a-village, snots use my kids to raise up the disadvantaged kids. They only have one shot at growing up wise, happy, and well adjusted and I will not let that be sacrificed for feel-good pseudo intellectual ideas on how my kids MAY one day fix the schools.

Kids deserve good schools for education not promises that the sacrifice they make will one day lead to better schools for others. The community that elects this board will never be the community that rallies around its schools because the community that elects this board is for the status quo. My kids will receive an education, I will pay to allow them to escape the hell that is the schools of firstworldproblems. Why damn my kids to the lives of the kids who's parents don't care or think MNPS is just peachy with all it lovely diversity? Let Nashville's kids follow Detroit, St Louis, D.C. and LA public school kids into the fire. My family deserves better than the squalor and hopelessness inner-city public schools provide with pride.

Parents will be allowed to improve their school because this board and these teachers and these principals will not allow it. Parents making decisions and pushing will somehow hurt kids with parents that do not care.

Chaining kids to failing schools as a way to prevent segregation? That is stupid.

By: JeffF on 9/19/12 at 4:51

If teachers do not like being judged by the accomplishments of their pupils, I suggest they not work in a school system with policies that celebrate hopelessness. The stink begins at this top of this pile of garbage. A board interested in doing the hard things to change the system will get good teachers. The board that defends the status quo (and is endorsed by the MNEA) will always fall back on higher pay, smaller classes (more dues paying teachers), and defense against parental choice to get the same adequate seat-warmers and baby sitters it has now.

A question, if an inner-city school board (like MNPS) had the power to ban private and secular schools and the movement of families to neighboring counties, do you think they would take advantage of that power? You bet! You see, it (public education) is not about improving the lives of the citizens, it is like any other government authority. It is power. The power to sculpt the lives of the people charged to you. Right now MNPS officials are hurting because too many people are escaping their grasp. They feel disrespected. They are left with only the kids without futures. No one will notice their work because their hard work is being flushed. Right now they are in preservation mode, holding onto as many souls as they can. Blocking attempts at programs that may make their old, dated programs looks bad. It is absurd in their minds that change may bring people back. Change would be admitting that what they have been doing was wrong.

Yep, better now let the concerned parents take over their own schools, that would hurt the kids with parents that don't give a damn. Let them show up at PTA meetings and smile at the principals and teachers the MNPS have chosen for whatever skills. Choice is bad because it hurts the people hired when there is no choice.

By: govskeptic on 9/19/12 at 6:28

Refusing any accountability has been a Union mainstay in this state and
many others for far too many years. Once tenure is achieved (which is
easy, if there are no criminal charges) a great number of teachers, embarrass
the hard working ones by loafing and constantly being unprepared day
in and day out, as if they have the same protections as a Federal Judge.

In Chicago right now this Accountability is one of the biggest sticking
points the Union is demanding being removed, even thought that
State took tens of millions of stimulus dollars, just like Tn did, to
implement certain of these requirements.

By: ancienthighway on 9/19/12 at 6:48

Parents have a choice right now about how their children are educated. There are private schools, church sponsored schools, and various public schools available in Nashville right now. An even bigger factor in how your children are educated is where you chose to live. No one has forced anyone to live in Nashville or move here.

If you live here because your family has always lived here, then you knew what the schools were like because you grew up in them and you saw what was happening to them. Yet you chose to stay and let your children be educated by the same schools.

If you moved here for a job and didn't look at what the schools are like, assuming you had or would have children attending schools, then you have no one to blame but yourself.

In either case, schools throughout the metro area and surrounding counties are not all the same. There is nothing stopping you from moving to someplace that has better schools.

The schools won't fix them selves just because you don't like them. It takes time. It takes money. Most of all, it takes commitment from the government, the school boards, the teachers, and the parents. Yes, the parents. Are you a member of your school's PTA? Do you volunteer at the school with any admin or teaching needs? When your child comes home with fund raisers, do you actively help or just leave it to someone else? Do you help your child with homework and additional learning?

Just throwing another school option isn't the solution to the problems education has now.

By: firstworldproblems on 9/19/12 at 9:41

Ah, JeffF gave the ole' "If you don't like accountability, teach somewhere else" mantra. Lovely. I always enjoy this line. You're going to get the same response people always get. Accountability isn't the problem. It's making sure that I'm only being held accountable for things that are within my control that is the issue, and that is the sticking point with which many teachers are having troubles right now. The current evaluation system places 50% of evaluation scores on measures that are completely beyond the control of teachers, such as schoolwide scores, graduation rates, etc.

Second, I think you'd be surprised how many teachers are members of the various outlets of the Tennessee Education Association, Jeff. Even in the most conservative of counties, the numbers are widespread. So, it really has nothing to do with MNEA. MNEA has no power on capitol hill. TEA is where the power is, and that is paid for by teachers all over the state. The real power is the NEA, which is national. But yes, many, many teachers (both Democrat and Republican) are members of TEA. Why? Because of the liability insurance. Plain and simple.

The state does not have a warehouse full of amazing teachers twiddling their thumbs, waiting in the wings, hoping that they will finally be able to dust off their old lesson plans and get to work. A state takeover means nothing, really. It means that the same teachers will be in the same buildings, teaching the same students. If you think that taking away teachers' freedoms to the point that they have nothing is going to get rid of the bad teachers and attract the best and brightest teachers, as everyone seems to think, you are sadly mistaken. Why would the best minds in the country want to teach in an oppressive, domineering climate that is completely controlled by someone else? Who would want to get a masters degree and then work for peanuts? What would ever be the motivation for that? Unless the state can fine parents for not caring about their childrens' educations, or kick out children who refuse to learn, nothing will change.

I'm not saying Metro schools are perfect. I agree with you that change is necessary. If it were up to me, I would tell the "powers that be" to go full magnet, full choice. But honestly, I think that TEA does do a lot of good things for teachers, without malicious intent for the public or for children. Whether people choose to believe me or not, being a teacher is not an easy job, especially not in Nashville. The above comments prove my point exactly. My colleagues and I work as hard as we can. We are all very intelligent people. Yet, we are bombarded on websites like this with comments from people who think we are total idiots who can't do anything. It's a difficult thing to do. We don't do it for the money. We do it because we're trying to turn things around. Well, some of us are, anyway.