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Tennessee schools could lose $100 million
Jim Horn Comment from SchoolMatters blog:

Tennessee Democrats: Tell Arne Duncan to Take His $100 Million and Go to Hell With It

The squeeze is on. Duncan has begun using the $5 billion federal slush fund to bribe his way to the successful corporate takeover of urban schooling in America. With the Feds now acting as front men for the Oligarchs (Gates, Broad, Waltons, etc.), the decision to be faced by state and local governments alone is simply this: to reenergize the public responsibility to offer humane public schools to all children or to turn the education of poor children over to corporate welfare schools that offer two tracks: test prep chain gangs or prison prep chain gangs.

There is no evidence to demonstrate that the corporate solution being proposed offers any pedagogical or social advantage over a renewed commitment to public schools. The KIPP cult-for-culture model being held up as the exemplar for can never work on a large scale, and Duncan knows it.

The short-term advantage of accepting the Duncan bribes signals a capitulation of public responsibility in a democratic state to provide for the equal education of its citizens. To accept the Duncan bribes is to invite the advancement of publicly-sanctioned, corporate-controlled apartheid schools for America. Don't do it.

What are the chances that in the end these Tennessee democrats won't cave in? From slim to none.

Tennessee schools could lose $100 million
State stimulus at risk after legislators stall charter schools bill

By Jaime Sarrio, The Tennessean

Tennessee could lose more than $100 million in stimulus money because of a failed legislative effort to allow more students to attend charter schools.

Democrats blocked a bill last week that would have made thousands of impoverished students in the state's 11 largest school districts eligible to enroll in charter schools. Lawmakers said they felt the expansion was too much too soon.

But the Obama administration disagrees. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Thursday that Tennessee's stance could jeopardize the state's shot at millions of dollars set aside to encourage school innovation.

"We want to reward those states that are willing to lead the country where we need to go and are willing to push this reform agenda very, very hard," Duncan told The Associated Press. "And the states that don't have the stomach or the political will, unfortunately, they're going to lose out."

Charter schools are publicly funded but operate independently of local school boards, giving them more flexibility with staffing rules and school curriculum.

Under state law, charters can accept only low-performing students, students from low-performing schools and, in some cases, low-income students in early grades.

A bill introduced this year would have opened charter schools to any students receiving free and reduced-price lunch in the state's 11 largest districts, making about 73 percent of Metro Nashville's 75,000 students eligible. Currently about 20,000 Nashville students, or 27 percent, are eligible to attend charters, though less than 1 percent are enrolled, according to the Tennessee Charter Schools Association.

President Barack Obama has specifically called for changes to enrollment rules and said he believes restrictions hamper innovation. Opponents say charter schools cherry-pick the best students and siphon resources from regular schools because taxpayer dollars follow the student.

Dems may reconsider

State Democrats said they decided to band together to stall the bill in the House Education Committee because it was too broad and efforts to negotiate a new version didn't move forward.

House Democratic Caucus Leader Mike Turner of Old Hickory added that he was surprised by the Obama administration's position and said Democrats would consider reopening the issue if the money was indeed at risk.

"No one has said a word to me about this," he said. Obama "ought to call us and tell us this stuff. If he would have called us and told us this, we might have had a different outlook."

The money in question is part of a $4.35 billion "Race to the Top" fund, which will be awarded to certain states to encourage new practices. States have not begun to apply for the money. Tennessee is a good candidate because of recent changes to the curriculum and a long-term data tracking system that shows student growth from year to year, said Rachel Woods, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Education.

Woods said the state would highlight those efforts regardless of the outcome of the charter school legislation.

Bill sponsor Rep. Beth Harwell, a Nashville Republican, said she hopes both parties can work together to pass a bill before the session ends in the coming weeks.

"I would hate to see Tennessee lose out on funding for our entire education system because this bill was stalled," she said.

Tennessee has 16 charter schools, with three operating in Nashville. Two more will open here this fall, and eight others will open in other counties, according to the Tennessee Charter Schools Association. There are no charter schools in Nashville's surrounding counties.

Law called restrictive

Charter school advocates say Tennessee has one of the most restrictive laws in the country, in part because of the enrollment requirements but also because the law limits the number of charter schools to 50.

Randy Dowell, principal of East Nashville's KIPP Academy, estimates that four of five students who want to attend the charter school are turned away because they do not meet enrollment rules. School officials must canvass nearby neighborhoods and hold enrollment events to find eligible students to fill the 80 slots that open each year.

Two of Rasheedah Pardue-Correia's children were able to secure spots rather than attending neighborhood schools, which were not meeting state standards.

She said she wanted her children to be in an environment where learning was cool and where they could be studious without being ashamed. The mother of five said she's found that at KIPP Academy, and believes other parents should have the chance to attend, too.

"It looks to me if they would change the model at the regular public schools to fit the model of the proven, successful charter schools, then we wouldn't have this issue in the first place," she said.

— Jaime Sarrio
The Tennessean


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