Evidently my column last week about the problems with the Education Savings Accounts angered House Speaker Glen Casada. The column got passed around down at the Capitol and Casada kicked me off the state textbook commission.
Appointments routinely go through both houses of the legislature for approval, and the list passed out of Senate education. But Casada had my nomination “taken off notice” in the House, which is legislative-speak for bury it.
Casada has a reputation for being mean and vindictive. As I explained last week he fired state Rep. David Byrd from his position as chair of an education subcommittee because he voted against the voucher bill. Casada put out the word at the beginning of session to all his committee chairs that they needed to toe the line.
Legislators always have a choice: Vote like leadership tells you, or vote your district. Each legislator has to decide to follow the wishes of the voters in his or her district or knuckle under to threats from the leadership. It will be interesting to see how Knox County’s legislators vote on the voucher/Education Savings Accounts, which has Knox County issuing debit cards with $7,300 on them for parents to spend for anything they can safely call education. (Broadband internet? Ballet lessons?) The school board has made it clear it opposes the bill. And it is reported that the state appropriation to Knox County is already $6 million less than expected. Does anyone think Knox County can build three badly needed new schools with state appropriations declining?
We will certainly record How They Voted when the bill comes to the House floor. And then when Knox County schools have state funds (BEP) cut to the bone and they go to county commission for a property-tax increase you will have a list of the legislators you can thank for the tax hike. Legislators who are tarred and feathered by the voters will have the satisfaction of knowing they made Casada and Gov. Bill Lee happy.
Ask your friends if they think it’s a good idea to just hand out debit cards to parents and tell them to spend it however they wish to educate their child. The people I have asked about it have had a universal reaction – from “Are you kidding me?” or “Can they do that?” to “Why?”
“Why” resonates. Conservatives used to pride themselves on having the best and most logical arguments to make against liberals. Conservatives prided themselves on rational thought. But these days so-called conservatives have put aside intelligence and replaced it with ideology. They can’t think for themselves; it’s just that if our tribe is for it, it must be good. Why think for yourself if you have ideologues to do your thinking for you?
Nowadays think tanks (somebody ought to rename them – they don’t think) funded by right-wing billionaires set an agenda. Lazy legislators don’t think about the practical result of the crazy-as-hell ideas that are the current fad. They just jump aboard the crazy train and if they hesitate, people like Speaker Casada have a cattle prod to encourage them.
Gov. Bill Lee, not having any experience in governing or knowledge of education, has been surrounded by a group of right-wing hustlers headquartered in Williamson County and has surrounded the governor’s office with advisers in thrall to the latest right-wing efforts to destroy public education. He is susceptible to the blandishments of public school enemies and is ripe to latch onto a carefully crafted education fantasy propounded by people who have never set foot in a classroom.
Smart conservative voters should remember their reaction in the past when it was explained that “it’s for the children.” Being “for the children” is the oldest dodge in politics.
During the campaign all Lee talked about was vocational education and reforming schools to make graduates qualified for jobs – a worthy goal and one he is pursuing. But improving vocational education in public schools isn’t getting much attention because it’s not on the agenda of the national network funded by the State Policy Network. SPN is a loose conglomeration of far-right groups seeking to privatize education and is funded primarily by the Koch brothers.
Republicans wouldn’t expand Medicaid (TennCare) even though the federal government funds it because there is no guarantee that the feds won’t stop funding it at some point. Where is the guarantee future legislators will continue to fund the savings accounts? Right now the plan is to spend $125 million in three years, and after that money to pay for it doesn’t come from additional appropriations. As students leave public schools then appropriations to local school boards will decrease to pay for the vouchers. And students who sign up for them have an entitlement until they are 18 years old. Would you take a bet that the state legislature will still be supporting this program in 10 years?
(The Tennessee Textbook Commission is made up of educators from the three grand divisions. The legislature also requires a “civilian” from each grand division. Lt. Gov. Randy McNally asked me to be the East Tennessee representative. The commission gets reports from reviewers on textbooks and those that comply, or do not comply, with the state’s curriculum. The commission examines the submissions and decides which books comply and forwards the recommendations to the state school board. I was nominated for a second term. It is a nonpaying position.)
BAD OPTICS: Former Knoxville Police Chief and current TBI director David Rausch got a little carried away at a Senate hearing last week. State Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma, is well liked and well respected by her colleagues. This year she is carrying a bill to legalize medical marijuana. Rausch was vociferous in his opposition to the bill, blasting the marijuana industry as liars and deceivers, but in his in-artful attack he appeared to lump in Bowling and other legislators in the category of the liars and deceivers. Bowling got up and left the hearing. Later there was a confrontation in the hall in which Rausch and about 10 law enforcement officers, including some sheriffs, surrounded the senator. The female senator surrounded by 10 burly law enforcement officers in her face presented what a PR executive would call “bad optics.” Witnesses shared the incident, and it got on the Capitol grapevine. Some of Bowling’s colleagues are upset about a state employee being discourteous to a senator.
IRONY, ANYBODY?: I noticed on the Academy of Country Music Awards songwriters were thanking God for the inspiration to write the single of the year, “Tequila,” which also won song of the year. It’s a song about a guy who can drink wine and Scotch and assorted brands of alcohol, but if he drinks Tequila he misses his old girlfriend, whom he remembers dancing in a sorority T-shirt and guzzling Tequila out of the bottle.
CONFLICTED: So did you root for Coach Bruce Pearl’s Auburn team in the Final Four Saturday? Or did you pull against them? Pearl gave UT fans exciting basketball and revived basketball as a major sport on campus. But his screw-up with the NCAA embarrassed the Vol Nation. And Auburn kept the Vols from winning the SEC championship this year.