Tag Archives: Patrick

A Look at the Lay of the TN Voucher Landscape

An article by Cari Wade Gervin takes a thorough look at the lay of the voucher landscape, ranging from a reception for legislators in Nashville to a Chamber of Commerce meeting in Knoxville where Rep. Bill Dunn says he’s eyeing an amendment to go further than Gov. Bill Haslam has proposed. There are also a lot of details on how the program would work.
Servers passed around trays of hors d’oeuvres as several members of the House and Senate Education Committees sipped white wine and mingled with lobbyists and concerned parents.
The event was billed as the Nashville kickoff for “National School Choice Week.” A similar event in Arizona a couple of days before had included a performance by the Jonas Brothers; Nashville was not so blessed, but the evening’s panel did include former WNBA superstar Lisa Leslie and Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne.
NSCW bills itself as a nonpartisan awareness group that does not advocate for any legislation or candidates, but it’s clearly well funded. Every chair in the ballroom was draped with a bright yellow fleece scarf embroidered with the group’s logo–graduation caps flying through the air above the words “National School Choice Week”–and an additional table in the lobby was stacked with more scarves, in case you wanted to take some home to your family.
Before the panel began its discussion, it aired a short cartoon about school choice co-produced by the Beacon Center of Tennessee, a libertarian think tank, and the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, the leading national advocate for school choice. (The two groups have launched a pro-voucher website, ChooseMeTennessee.com, where you can watch the video yourself.)
“It’s just like picking a college. Or a grocery store. Or a shopping mall, car, church, job–you name it,” the video says.
That’s one of the arguments proponents of vouchers like to use a lot–that schools should be just another consumer choice. And maybe that consumer mentality has something to do with Overstock.com’s Byrne’s outspoken advocacy for vouchers, despite having never been married and having no children himself. (He’s the chairman of the board for the Friedman Foundation.) Byrne compared public schools to the Soviet agricultural system and said a market-driven system would breed more educational success.
…But proponents of a universal system, like much of the audience at the NCSW event, think there’s no reason to not make Tennessee a testing ground. At a legislative briefing at the Knoxville Chamber of Commerce last week, Dunn, who says he has been a fan of school choice for over 20 years, said he is contemplating an amendment to Haslam’s bill that would open up vouchers to more students.
“I have told [the school choice lobbyists], bring me 55 votes, and I’ll consider expanding the bill,” Dunn says.
Newly elected Rep. Roger Kane, another House Education Committee member, also voiced his support for a wider program.
“It gives a parent a sense of choice. It brings it back to the local level. What’s more local than family?” Kane says. “I think its time has finally come.”

Attorneys Question State’s Deputy Education Commissioner in Memphis Schools Lawsuit

U.S. District court documents show that Patrick Smith, the state’s former interim commissioner of education and current deputy commissioner, faced a series of questions from Memphis City Council attorney Allan Wade in a deposition taken as part of a federal court lawsuit over moves to merge Memphis City Schools (MCS) into the Shelby County School system, reports the Commercial Appeal.
The questioning was aimed at undermining the state’s categorization of MCS as a special school district.
Wade and Leo Bearman, an outside attorney for the Shelby County Commission, attempted to elicit testimony from Smith that could back up their argument that MCS should not be considered a special school district. That would mean that a new state law requiring a transition commission could not guide merger of the two school systems.
That state law, known as Norris-Todd, refers specifically to consolidations involving a special school district.
Wade pointed out that the state DOE website calls Memphis a “city” district and that the state comptroller’s website that lists special-school-district taxes for other counties does not do so for Shelby County — a 1925 state law abolished special school districts that do not have taxing authority.
When Wade asked if Smith knew of “any document, any enactment” of the legislature describing MCS as a special school district, Smith stuck to the department’s consistent legal references to attorney general opinions and legislative intent.
“I am not aware personally of the document of the General Assembly that describes it as a special school district,” Smith said. “But I am aware that the General Assembly takes action believing it to be a special school district.”
The current Shelby County Schools board has seven members, all from outside Memphis. SCS contends that as long as the MCS board continues to meet and govern city schools, the city is receiving proper representation relating to the public education of its children.
SCS and the state argue that Norris-Todd provides the best and most sound process to guide the merger.
……As a next step, the Memphis City Council attorneys want U.S. District Judge Hardy Mays to require Memphis City Schools Supt. Kriner Cash and board president Martavius Jones to face questions Tuesday.