AFC’s Shaka Mitchell Discusses the Mechanics of ESA Vouchers and His Upcoming School Choice Rally

AFC’s Shaka Mitchell Discusses the Mechanics of ESA Vouchers and His Upcoming School Choice Rally

 

Live from Music Row Tuesday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Cunningham welcomed Tennessee Director of the American Federation for Children Shaka Mitchell to the newsmakers line who explained in detail the purpose of ESA’s and how there is a large amount of parental support for the initiative. He also advised of the upcoming rally in Legislative Plaza this Thursday at 8 a.m.

Cunningham: One of the threats is the continuing erosion of parental authority in education and parents’ ability to make decisions about where they’re going to send their children and what curriculum there’s going to be taught to their children. Shaka Mitchell is with the American Federation for Children and is the state director. Shaka, good morning.

Mitchell: Hey, good morning. Thanks for having me.

Cunningham: Thank you so much for getting up early. We appreciate it. Tennessee has passed the ESA, the educational savings account legislation, but there are some threats to it coming up. There’s a hearing with the Tennessee Supreme Court coming up. Tell us about that.

Mitchell: Yeah. Thanks, Ben. So you’re absolutely right. The state legislature or General Assembly passed the Tennessee Education Savings Account pilot program back in 2019 actually.

It passed in 2019, and there are nearly 3,000 students signed up for the program. And those are students in the Metro Nashville Public School system and Shelby County School system, which are our two biggest districts in the state.

They account for about 20 percent of the state’s children just in those two districts. Well, it always polls so well that to me, that’s no surprise that parents are responding that way because when you ask parents about educational choice, always they always say, yes, we want control over how our children are educated.

Mitchell: Yeah, that’s right. And frankly, that polling has only increased over the past year. The Tennessee General Assembly was ahead of the curve because we passed that ESA law before COVID.

Imagine what happened after you have had a year of many kids in Nashville and Memphis who haven’t been in a school building in a year and a half. So you can imagine how frustrated parents are.

And, so of course, parents are saying, yeah, I’d much rather more control over where my kids learn, what they learn, and how they learn than these districts who haven’t done right by our kids for decades.

Cuningham: Tell us just about the basic mechanics of the ESA. How does it work?

Mitchell: The ESA works a little bit like a health savings account. I’m sure people are getting ever more familiar with that. I won’t bore you to death with education financing because, frankly, you need a Ph.D.

Cunningham: It’s too early in the morning. (Laughter)

Mitchell: But suffice to say, the state government put in just over $7,300 per pupil for every student who attends public school in the state of Tennessee. That’s the state portion alone, not the local, not the federal amount. $7,300.

If a family says, you know what? We want our child to find a different alternative because the zone school is not working for whatever reason, it’s not working for our kids we can take the state funds, and we can use them at a qualifying private school, which just means that there’s some accreditation.

If there’s money left over, you can use the funds for tutoring, for digital tools, like a laptop or Kindle, and that kind of thing. You can roll it over into a college savings account. You can use it for a whole host of educational expenses and you would do that at the parents’ decision.

It’s not this nine-member Pollett Bureau that we like to call the school board. It’s the parents making this decision.

Henry: Hey, Shaka, this is Grand Henry. While I’m here today in my own capacity, I do work for Americans for Prosperity and honestly, let me tell you, on behalf of the 4,600 grassroots folks that we work within Americans Prosperity, we cannot thank you enough.

And American Federation for Children for what you all do for education and particularly with this ESA bill. We had a lot to do with the fight as well, and we loved it. And all of our people love it as well.

I know there’s something coming up with Supreme Court this week on Thursday. What do you need from us? Is there a call for grassroots action? What’s the biggest point of concern? What should we be paying attention to on Thursday?

Mitchell: This is a great question, Grant. And you’re absolutely right. American Prosperity was a great partner and has been for parent choice, educational freedom across Tennessee. This Thursday, two days from now, the Tennessee Supreme Court is going to hear this case, which we’re excited about because as I mentioned, 3,000 kids had already signed up.

Well, after those kids signed up, the city of Nashville and Shelby Counties challenged Governor Lee’s program in court. They basically halted the program, which is a terrible tragedy.

But finally, this thing is up to the Tennessee state Supreme Court. We’re excited about that. So arguments are 9:00 a.m. Central time on Thursday. They will be streaming so you can catch the live stream.

It will be on YouTube. You can go to our website. We’ll have up there Schoolchoicetn.com. Grant, I bet that Americans for Prosperity can get that link out to your followers. And maybe even The Tennessee Star Report can, too. Thursday, we are having a rally downtown at Legislative Plaza. The capital is right there.

The Supreme Court building is right there because we think it’s important for the justices to know this isn’t a hypothetical case. This is the educational future for 15,000 students. This is what’s at stake

Henry: And Shaka, that rally, tell me if I’m wrong here, but it starts at 8 a.m. June 3 at Legislative Plaza.

Mitchell: Thursday, June third. That’s absolutely right. 8:00 a.m. at Legislative Plaza. There’s no need to you don’t need to register anything. Looks to be nice weather. We may get a little bit of rain tomorrow, but I think we’re going to get some nice weather. Listen, we even canceled the cicadas for everybody.

Henry: (Laughs) Was that ya’ll?

Mitchell: That was us.

Henry: We appreciate that.

Mitchell: But I think again, we’ve got to make sure the courts know, hey, this is real. And parents want to have the right to choose their schools, and we think they’ve got the constitutional right.

The U.S. Supreme Court has affirmed that time and time again. We just need these districts to get out of the way. If you all can’t get the job done, get out of the way and let parents have some agency.

Cunningham: Could you expand on that a little bit? Who are the people that oppose giving parents more authority? Who in the world would do that?

Mitchell: It’s a great question and without trying to call anybody any names I think, frankly, it’s the districts who are so satisfied with the status quo. They are satisfied with the status quo because if you are Metro Nashville Public School year after year, you can put out a product that fails students. Three out of four kids in Nashville don’t read on grade level. Three out of four kids.

Cunningham: 75 percent.

Henry: Wow.

Cunningham: My government school math is right.

Mitchell: That’s right. And yet, year after year, the kids keep coming back. They’re not coming back because they’re satisfied with what’s happening or because their parents are satisfied they’re coming back because there’s no other option.

And school choice has always existed for people who can afford it. And you can either afford it because you can pay for the school or you move to another area. But what about for the hundreds of thousands who can’t afford it?

Not that this show would get political or anything, but this year, we seem to be throwing money out the door. Throwing money at all types of different problems. Yet in K-12 education, I believe, because of the Teachers Unions, they have said, you know what, the status quo is still fine.

We’re giving money for PreK. We’re giving money for higher ed. We’re giving money for all different types of things and saying, hey, spend it how you want, but not for K-12. We think that’s got to change.

Henry: Shaka, obviously, with everything going on in the public school system, especially as far as it relates to Tennessee here. And we have one minute left. So I ask this question quickly. Some parents could obviously understand.

Hey, I have more of a reason now to educate my child than ever been before. But there is real statistical evidence behind this ESA being a better version of education. It’s not some animus towards public educators, correct?

Mitchell: Yeah, that’s absolutely right. I know that I’m giving the stats, right? But I’m not making up stats about the public education system. These are facts. My own kids go to a public school.

Listen, if the public school is working for you, that’s excellent. But don’t block someone else in their ability to find a school that works for their child.

Cunningham: Shaka, thanks so much for joining us this morning. It’s always too short. We really do appreciate it. Your rally is Thursday at 8 a.m. And give us your website one more time.

Mitchell: Schoolchoicetn.com.

Listen to the full hour here:

– – –

Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. to the Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.
Photo “Shaka Mitchell” by Shaka Mitchell.

 

 

 

 

 

Tennessee House Majority Leader Senator Jack Johnson Confident Anti-Critical Race Theory Bill Will Pass

Tennessee House Majority Leader Senator Jack Johnson Confident Anti-Critical Race Theory Bill Will Pass

 

Live from Music Row Wednesday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. –  host Leahy welcomed Tennessee Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson to the newsmakers line to clarify and outline how a new bill set to pass would set guardrails on critical race theory being taught in public schools.

Leahy: We have State Senator Jack Johnson on the newsmaker line. Welcome and good morning Jack Johnson.

Johnson: Good morning, Michael and Crom. It’s great to be back with you guys.

Leahy: Well, State Senator Johnson, I sent you a text last night late. It was passed by bedtime, but it was important. I said, well, the Tennessee House has passed the bill banning critical race theory from K-12 public schools and it looks like a pretty good bill. It addresses the 11 specific tenants of critical race theory. It didn’t specifically say critical race theory.

Then I got a text from a grassroots group saying, oh, no, the state Senate didn’t pass it. There’s trouble in paradise. (Johnson laughs) To which I said, Jack, what’s up? And then you provided an explanation and share that with our audience, if you would, please.

Johnson: Sure. And thank you for the opportunity to do it, because I realized whenever we cast that procedural vote that it might be perceived last night that we were voting against the ban on teaching critical race theory in public schools. And that’s not the case at all. Because of our legislative process, we’re using a vehicle.

We’re using a bill that deals with another subject matter. But the caption of the bill, which is the way we work in Tennessee, the caption will hold the necessary language that we want to pass to ban the teaching of critical race theory. The Senate had already passed that bill, which, by the way, is sponsored by my friend Mike Bell, who is chairman of the Judiciary Committee and serves on the Education Committee.

And he’s very passionate about this issue. And he’s kind of taken the lead along with Brian Kelsey, who’s chairman of the Education Committee. And so the House put a mandatory language on the bill that we had already passed. When a bill has passed differently in each Chamber, then it has to go back to the other Chamber for that Chamber to either concur or non-concur with the action of the other Chamber.

When that bill came over, we had some language worked out with the House. But the stakeholders decided they wanted to make it even stronger. They want to make the language to ban critical race theory or the teaching of those tenants, as you say, even stronger longer than was originally drafted. And the only way procedurally to do that is to go to a conference committee.

Now that language has been worked out, you will see it. It will be made public later today because we’ll have that conference committee today. It’s going to add a couple of elements to what was passed by the House. And again, we are working collaboratively with the House on this. There is almost universal agreement among the Republican supermajorities that we want to get this passed in the best manner possible.

So we’ll have a conference committee today. The conference committee report will be taken out by each Chamber. It will pass overwhelmingly. We’re going to send it to the governor, and he will sign it.

Leahy: The conference committee makes the strengthening additions to the bill today. Does it go before the House for a vote in the Senate today or tomorrow?

Johnson: Today. That is correct. Let’s say that the House and again, it’s not the case with this bill, but it’s just procedurally, the only way we can get to where we want to go. But if you have a bill and the House and Senate have different versions and each Chamber is resolute in their version of the bill and the other side will not concur to the changes of the other Chamber, then you end up going to a conference committee.

And that’s where you sit down and negotiate and work it out. And if you can come to an agreement, that committee adopts a conference committee report and it’s signed off on by the members of the conference committee and then the bill is brought back to each Chamber, and you adopt that conference committee report just as if it was a brand new bill. And that’s what we’re going to do today. So we can get the strongest language possible past relative to critical race theory.

Leahy: So we’re talking with State Senator Jack Johnson, the majority leader in the state Senate. So it sounds to me, Jack, like our headline tonight at midnight, when we publish each day’s news stories at The Tennessee Star will be something like Tennessee General Assembly Passes Strongest Anti-Critical Race Theory Bill in America.

Johnson: That’s what I expect to be the case, and that’s what we want to do. Tennessee is a leader. We want to be a leader on this particular issue. But let me say something else, Michael, if I could as well. And I’ve had as you might imagine, dozens, if not hundreds of great conversations with constituents, moms, and dads whose children have been exposed to some of this material in Williamson County.

Public education is a partnership between the state and the local level we created. Many many years ago we created school districts, political subdivisions that act as school districts with local school boards for a reason. And that’s because teaching kids in inner-city Memphis is going to be different than Hancock County. And so you need local authority.

It’s still incredibly important, no matter what language we passed today and send to the governor to become law, that people are still engaged with their local school boards. And that is certainly happening in Williamson County and it’s happening all over the state. So this battle to stop this does not stop or end when we pass this legislation.

Because if there is a school system out there somewhere in Tennessee that is intent on teaching this propaganda to our kids, they’ll find a way to do it. So we’re going to set these guardrails and these parameters. And I think when you see the language we pass today, it’s very thorough, but it’s still critically important that people be engaged with their local school boards.

Carmichael: Senator, I’ve got a question for you. In the bigger cities, the teachers’ unions have such immense power, and the teachers’ unions essentially control the school boards. What can the state do about that? Because I understand what you’re saying. And it’s a nice idea that the local school board actually cares about the students.

It’s a nice idea. But in the bigger cities, the school board cares more about the union and the bureaucracy. And the result is that the education and many of our government-run schools, especially for Black and Hispanic children is just inadequate. It’s just terrible. What can be done about that where you just have these special interests that spend enormous amounts of money to get their people on the school board and control those giant budgets for their own interests?

Johnson: No, you’re exactly right, Crom. The teachers’ unions do have enormous power, especially in the larger cities. And they have significant influence over the election of school board members. We’ve made progress at the state level, but there’s more to do.  Michael will remember, you may as well Crom, several years ago when I carried the legislation to end collective bargaining.

At one time, you think it’s bad now, at one time, school districts were required under state law to engage in collective bargaining with the local teachers union to pass raises, salaries, all kinds of things, working conditions, and so forth. And we did finally get that legislation passed to revert. It was the only instance in Tennessee where there was state-mandated collective bargaining with the union. So we did away with that, which was a significant step. But there is more to do.

Carmichael: Does the state have the authority to just do away with teachers’ unions in the state of Tennessee?

Johnson: No. It’s an interesting legal question. If people want to be part of an organization, then they can under state law. You hit the nail on the head, though, Crom. The problem comes in when they get so engaged and virtually are Kingmakers, if you will, relative to the local school board and the people who serve on the school board. So if the union doesn’t sign off or endorse you, in some instances, you can’t get elected.

So defacto they do have control over the body. What the state can do, and we know that we have serious issues in, particularly in Memphis and Nashville, relative to public education the governor and our Education Department is focused like a laser on those particular districts. We fund roughly two-thirds of their budget, so we have significant influence over them. But statutorily you do have a school board that has control over local decisions.

Leahy: Jack, later today, after the state Senate and the state House pass this strengthened anti-critical race theory bill, do you have any indication from the governor’s office as to his attitude about signing this particular bill?

Johnson: So I’ve not asked him specifically, but I know that the stakeholders, the chair of the Education Committee from both the Senate and the House have been in conversations with him as well. And I never speak for the governor or commit for him, but I feel quite confident that he will receive this legislation favorably and sign it. I’d be surprised if he didn’t.

Leahy: Well, sometimes there’s bad news we talk about politically. This sounds like it’s very good news.

Listen to the full second hour here:

– – –

Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. to the Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rep. Sexton Talks Cutting Strings Attached to Federal Money and Maintaining Tennessee Values in Public Schools

Rep. Sexton Talks Cutting Strings Attached to Federal Money and Maintaining Tennessee Values in Public Schools

 

Live from Music Row Monday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed TN. (R) State Representative Jerry Sexton to the studio to discuss the Tennessee General Assembly’s intentions to control what is being taught in K12 public schools and the catch of accepting education funding from Washington.

Leahy: In studio our good friend State Representative Jerry Sexton from Bean Station, Tennessee. Jerry during the break, we were talking a little bit about education policy. There’s this real disconnect between what the Tennessee General Assembly says should be taught in schools and what actually is taught in schools. The schools’ curriculum is leaning left. Big time.

Now the Joe Biden Department of Education, I don’t know if you saw this is making grants available to teach critical race theory and The 1619 Project, which has been debunked historically. Critical race theory is an effort to divide America and to tell a false history. The concept behind critical race theory is not, as Dr. Martin Luther King said, that we should be judged by the content of our character.

But critical race theory says that everything should be seen through the lens of race. My question to you is there are apparently, some state legislators who are considering, even in the last couple of weeks of the session of introducing legislation, maybe in a caption bill, you would know better than I how it would come about, that would prohibit the teaching of either The 1619 Project or of critical race theory in Tennessee K12 public schools. If such a bill were proposed, how would you vote?

Sexton: Ha! I would vote to kill it. To kill it, kill it, kill it. And I know that I have several colleagues on the Education Committee that are fighting against this type of policy. And this is what’s ruining our public schools. It’s not about education. And I say it all the time. I was only on the education committee last session, and I talked about this all the time that it’s not about teaching, writing, arithmetic those types of things. It’s about indoctrinating our children. And we must put a stop to it. We must do that. We’ve stood up in this legislature just this past year. There was a program to come out to go into homes. And I don’t know if your people talked about that.

Leahy: Wellness checks without the approval of the parents.

Sexton: And we were livid. And it’s because of the Tennessee legislature and some conservative representatives that stood up and expose this for what it was. And we got it stopped. And, Michael, until we have the backbone to stand up and say, no, absolutely not, Washington you keep your money, you keep your values, you keep your education will keep ours in Tennessee. And I’ll be happy in five years to show the difference to Washington. They’re not teaching education. They’re teaching propaganda.

Leahy: Yeah, it’s kind of bizarre that our K12 public schools have devolved into propaganda machines. But that’s the reality of where they are now. I have this little pet idea, and I want to run it by you. So K12 public education in most States is funded by about 40 percent by local taxes, 50 percent by state taxes, about 10 percent from federal revenue. With federal revenue comes federal strings.

And usually, they come up with all these stupid ideas that if you want federal money, you’re going to have to do X, Y, or Z and all this stupid stuff. So here is my idea that I’ve kind of floated around. Why doesn’t the Tennessee General Assembly pass a bill that says we are not going to take a dime of federal money for education? You can keep your money and you can keep your regulations and we’ll do it our way. That makes some sense to me. As a legislator, what do you think of that concept?

Sexton: Well, let me veer off into another area and it deals with federal money. On my way home last Thursday, I’m getting calls from my county mayors. They’re wanting to know we had two million dollars put into the budget that would go directly to these counties for them to spend the money on infrastructure or whatever they needed. The local people and mayors…

Leahy: They know what’s needed. If the road needs fixing, they know which road needs fixing.

Sexton: I have a little Cumberland gap. It’s just a small place right there on the Kentucky border. And the Mayor told me he said, we need some roads and we’re going to get $40,000. of that money and we want our roads resurfaced. He said I’m hearing that they’re talking about not putting that in the budget because of the federal dollars.

Here’s what he said and here’s what every mayor told me. Those federal dollars come with strings. He said I can’t pave my roads. He said, I have to do one, two, three, and most of them have to do with the Green New Deal or something like that. He said I need the state money because I can do whatever I need to do for my town, for my county.

But he said if these federal dollars, he said, I have to do whatever they tell me to do. And he said I’m hearing that they’re wanting to take the $200 million out because of all the federal dollars. And I said, not in the House. The House is fighting for you. And I said it’s my understanding the governor is fighting for you. So I don’t know what the Senate is going to do. I’m not in the Senate. But that’s exactly what we’re doing with education. We need to tell Washington you keep your money, we’ll keep our money and we’ll teach our kids Tennessee values.

Leahy: Will you in the next session, introduce a bill to accomplish just that?

Sexton: I would love to accomplish that. I would love to introduce that bill. I will be glad to do that.

Leahy: All right. We’ll track it. And I say that with a smile on my face.

Sexton: Sure.

Leahy: And you know why there’s a smile on my face? Because there are huge hurdles to such a bill.

Sexton: Oh, absolutely.

Leahy: The Teacher’s Union. The Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents, and the Tennessee School Board. They’re all going to oppose it. All of them. Because they want the money.

Sexton: What’s most important to us? Funding the teachers union in the large infrastructure in the education Department? Or teaching our students? what’s the most important?

Leahy: I agree. And I’ve talked to a representative, Mark White, who’s a chair of the Education Administration Committee. He was favorably inclined to that idea.

Sexton: Absolutely.

Leahy: At least at the initial stages. It is a tough political battle. But we’ll see how that plays out.

Listen to the first hour here:

– – –

Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. to the Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio