The Tennessee Education Association is planning to protest on Monday against a modest school voucher bill using Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) proposed by Gov. Bill Lee, a Republican, and currently under consideration by the Tennessee General Assembly.
“Vouchers would deal a mortal blow to every community in Tennessee. Join us at 801 2nd Ave. North in Nashville for a procession to defeat vouchers Monday, April 22. Food available at 3:30 pm. Procession to the Capitol starts forming at 4 pm through 5 pm,” a Facebook event hosted by the Tennessee Education Association, the Metro Nashville Education Association, and the Murfreesboro Education Association claims.
Gov. Lee was easily elected in November on a platform that included parental choice for schools, in the form of vouchers, or ESAs.
The proposal has encountered fierce opposition from the Tennessee Teachers Associations, the TN Teachers United #RedforEd group, almost all school boards in the state–encouraged by the Tennessee School Boards Association, and most public education administrators–encouraged by the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents.
This opposition has occurred despite the poor performance of Tennessee public schools, as documented in a recent study the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, which concluded that 46 percent of 2017 graduates of Tennessee public high schools required remedial work in math upon entering college, and 30 percent required remedial work in reading.
Lee’s proposed ESA bill would not go into effect until the fall of 2021, and would be limited to a maximum of public schools in five of the state’s 95 counties. An estimated 5,000 students in those counties would be eligible to receive $7,300 in state funding for tuition and related school expenses at a school of their choice, public or private. The number of students who will be eligible for the ESA funding will be less than one percent of the almost one million public school students in the state.
The bill has moved through committees in both the House and State Senate, and is expected to face votes on the floors of both houses during the final weeks of this year’s session of the Tennessee General Assembly, which is expected to adjourn in mid-May. If the bill passes in both houses and is presented for the governor’s signature, it may be even more modest than his original proposal, as the latest version in the State Senate only applies to public school students in two of the state’s counties.
The increased public visibility of the the Tennessee Education Association in organizing teacher opposition to Gov. Lee’s voucher proposal may be a response to the aggressive stance taken by the newly formed organization called TN Teachers United, a closed Facebook group of teachers, that identifies itself as the #RedforEd group in Tennessee. The group’s Facebook page states “The purpose of the group is to provide TN public school educators a place to organize advocacy actions across the state.”
“As a part of the #RedForEd movement, we believe that we can win through collective action on the job and in the community. We are ready to fight for the schools our students deserve—just like the teachers in West Virginia, Arizona, Los Angeles, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Colorado, and Chicago,” the page continues, noting that one of the group’s core beliefs is “We oppose school vouchers in any form, under any name.”
“This teachers union effort, called #RedforEd, has its roots in the very same socialism that President Trump vowed in his 2019 State of the Union address to stop, and it began in its current form in early 2018 in a far-flung corner of the country before spreading nationally. Its stated goals–higher teacher pay and better education conditions–are overshadowed by a more malevolent political agenda: a leftist Democrat uprising designed to flip purple or red states to blue, using the might of a significant part of the education system as its lever,” Breitbart News reported in February.
Breitbart News subsequently reported in March that the Tennessee #RedforEd group “is threatening a strike, even though teachers strikes have been illegal in the Volunteer State since 1978.”
Earlier this month, a small group of teachers, organized by a group called the Tennessee Strong Coalition, which features #RedforEd on its Facebook page and appears to include Tennessee #RedforEd supporters among its members, gathered at the Capitol to protest the vouchers bill.
Breitbart contributor Michael Patrick Leahy is also the CEO & Editor-in-chief of The Tennessee Star.