Williamson County State House Candidates on Education

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There are two contested races for State House seats in Williamson County this year. Early voting begins on October 19, and Election Day is November 8. House District 63 residents will have the opportunity to vote for incumbent Glen Casada (R) or challenger Courtenay Rogers (D). In District 65, voters can choose between Sam Whitson (R) and Holly McCall (D) to replace Jeremy Durham, who suspended his campaign in July and lost the 8/4 primary.

Search here for your polling location as well as your TN House District.

We’ve compiled a profile of each candidates’ views on public education in Williamson County and the state.

District 63 State House

Glen Casada

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Political Experience

Glen Casada was first elected as Republican State Representative for District 63 in 2000. He is currently GOP Caucus Chairman and has expressed an interest in running for Speaker of House. Previously Casada served on the Williamson County Commission from 1994-2001. Casada ran unopposed in the August primary and got 3,372 votes. He has not faced an opponent in the general election since 2006.

Education Platform

“Rep. Casada is committed to enacting conservative, fiscally prudent educational solutions to give every student access to quality educators and every parent greater choice in their child’s education.

 

Preserve and protect Williamson County’s fair share of school funding

 

Encourage a competitive environment amongst our education systems by giving students and parents in underperforming schools the option for school choice

 

Empower parents and teachers with a greater voice in determining curriculum and evaluating instructional materials

 

Incentivize school administrators by rewarding top-performing systems”

Casada has been an outspoken proponent of charters and vouchers for many years. He was a sponsor of the most recent voucher bill (HB 1049) which was pulled prior to a full House vote. At a legislative roundtable in January, Casada said about vouchers, “I surveyed this, so the eastern third of the county, my house district. Over 50% support vouchers. And if you narrow it down just to the bottom 5% it becomes… this is a popular thing not only in the state and with the governor but with Williamson County.” In fact, Casada’s survey did not have a question about vouchers. The questions were about charter schools.

Casada also co-sponsored HJR 0493, a constitutional amendment to give the full authority to determine what funding and educational opportunities are adequate for Tennessee’s public school children. The resolution was taken off notice from the Finance Ways & Means Subcommittee in April.

Casada’s score on AFP’s 2016 “Taxpayer Scorecard” was 102% based on his voting record. There are five education bills included (voucher-related (3), Little Hatch, teachers’ association payroll deduction). Casada sponsored the Little Hatch Act bill that prohibits certain campaign-related activities by public school employees.

Casada also sponsored the “Jeb Bush School [A-F] Grading System” that was signed into law in March. It “requires the department of education to develop a school grading system that assigns A, B, C, D, and F letter grades to schools” and is viewed as a path to education vouchers. Pro-voucher StudentsFirst Tennessee (now TennesseeCAN) pushed the bill and thanked Casada for his support.

On July 29, 2016, Casada “discussed school choice initiatives in Tennessee” at an event hosted by Americans for Prosperity and American Federation for Children—two national groups who spend huge sums of money to get pro-privatization candidates elected to local and state offices.

Home Page asked candidates: “Several counties have sued the state over the BEP funding formula. Although Williamson isn’t one of them, school system leaders have raised concerns about the BEP as well. What is your reaction to the lawsuits, and how would you address this issue?” Casada did not respond.

Opinion, Tennessean 10/13/16

“To top things off, our work to expand charter schools and implement higher standards in our public education system combined with our push to equip our children with the tools they need to reach their full potential has led to Tennessee students becoming the fastest improving in the country.

 

“And, as we look forward to next year, the Republican-led General Assembly will continue to monitor our bold education reforms by listening to the input of teachers across the state on how to improve these new initiatives for even further success in the months to come. After all, our teachers are on the front lines and truly know what’s best for our students.”

At the Herald/WAKM Coffee and Conversation event on education, Casada said he feels proud to have been a proponent of repealing Common Core in Tennessee and implementing improved standardized testing.

“Since the Republicans have taken over [in the House], [in seven years] Tennessee has gone from 44th in the nation on standardized testing to now 35th in the nation. I’m proud that [Tennessee has] moved that many notches in a relatively short period of time.”

 

“I am looking forward to working with Charles Sargent to tweak the BEP. The nice thing about being in leadership is we have his ear. We need to address the way funding is done in the state of Tennessee.

 

“I don’t object to accepting federal funds at all. The federal government is close to being bankrupt. The FBI and CIA have said it’s on the verge of catastrophe of happening. I will continue to lobby our senators. We have a large living problem on the federal level that should scare us.

 

“I don’t have any plans [for bills] but the governor is meeting with me in a couple of weeks. There will be some bills the governor has I will be carrying. The governor has implemented rigorous standards and has some standardized testing. We hold our teachers accountable.

 

“But I want to give children who are stuck in failing schools out of those schools. The legislation wouldn’t affect Williamson. I am a firm believer in trying something gradually. I don’t know why anyone would oppose putting them in a charter or private schools in that district [with failing schools]. It’s to try to help them escape.”

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Education-Related Campaign Support

Casada has accepted $15,500 from pro-voucher groups StudentsFirst (now 50CAN) and American Federation for Children since 2011.

AFP TN Director Andy Ogles endorsed Casada 2014. StudentsFirst Tennessee’s (now TennesseeCAN) Communications Director Ted Boyatt was a paid Casada campaign staffer in 2014 (pictured here with Casada and Jeremy Durham.)

Relationship with Williamson County Schools

Casada’s wife was a WCS school nurse and later the district’s Health Services Coordinator.

Glen Casada and Jeremy Durham fought Superintendent Mike Looney on several educational policy issues (including their efforts to allow larger class sizes) in the 2014 legislative session. The WCSB passed a number of resolutions in support of or opposition to a number of bills that would impact WCS. Casada and the Williamson County delegation have a history of voting against the board’s stances.

In 2014, Williamson County School Board member Cherie Hammond challenged Casada in the 2014 Republican primary for the District 63 State House seat.

That year, Casada hosted campaign kickoff events for Susan Curlee, Beth Burgos, Candy Emerson and Paul Bartholomew and endorsed Dan Cash and contributed $500 to Cash in May.

Casada was in close communication with Susan Curlee about the campaign finance complaint she filed against Williamson Strong on December 2014.

On 9/25/15, WCSB Chairman PJ Mezera contributed $250 to Casada’s campaign.

In 2016, Casada contributed $300 to both District 4 WCSB candidate Joey Czarneski and District 5 WCSB candidate Julie Mauck.

 

Courtenay Rogers

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Political Experience

Courtenay Rogers is a political newcomer who has never run for office before. She picked up a petition to run against Glen Casada on April 1. Rogers ran unopposed in the August primary and received 1,099 votes.

Education Platform

“Investing in our Public Schools

 

“I’m a proud public school parent and a vocal public school advocate. People move here for our public schools, our property values are up because of our public schools and corporations build headquarters here because of our public schools. I cannot be more clear when I say we must protect our public education system and stop electing representatives who take money from outside special interest groups who support privatization. Our children and teachers deserve to be represented by someone who will fight to fully fund our public schools and I am that person.

 

“While Williamson County is renowned throughout the state for our high achieving schools, recent efforts have threatened the future of our school system. Tennessee ranks 6th worst for spending amount per student for education, and in 2016, the state government only funded 38% of the cost necessary for students in Williamson County and gave 20% less funding than was requested by our Superintendent. Our incumbent representative introduced legislation that would take public funding from schools to give to private schools or for-profit organizations running charter schools. While local parents vocally opposed the increased pressure on students from standardized testing, our local representative passed a bill that will use these scores to rank schools, increasing pressure even more. With a daughter in 3rd grade and a business owner, my top priority is to increase the funding going to our children’s’ education, increasing teacher salaries and benefits, and make sure that Williamson County Schools receive the support they need from the state to continue their tradition of excellence.”

Rogers issued another position statement on public education on 10/18.

“I want to take a moment to revisit the topic of public education, more specifically about testing, funding and TNReady.

 

“We’ve already seen that #TNReady has failed our students in the worst way. After last year’s disastrous testing period, the state is now turning its sights on more high-stakes standardized testing – as if our kids need more time taken away from instructional class time.

 

“Except this time, the state department of education wants to raise the standards even higher by switching to grading scores, according to an article published in The Tennessean. The state argues that if they switch to grading scores that are aligned closer to a national test such as the ACT, then the state’s assessments will provide a more accurate picture of how prepared students are for college and for life.

 

“My opponent, Glen Casada, is a big believer in standardized testing. This is not the solution.

 

“Lately, I’ve been talking to voters about what their priorities are, and I’ve had the opportunity to speak weekly on WAKM 950 AM radio about public education. My campaign team has knocked on about 7,000 doors in District 63, and one of the questions I ask is, “What are the issues you care about in Williamson County?” Of course, traffic is the #1 complaint, but a close second is that residents love our public schools and want to keep them strong. People want our schools to stay at the top. People want our teachers to be paid more. And people, especially in Thompson’s Station and in Nolensville, believe we need to build more schools because of overcrowding. Well, all of this takes money.

 

“The solution to improving academic achievement is not more testing, but rather, investing in fully funding our schools, which I intend to make one of my top priorities in the state house. What does it mean to fully fund our public schools?

 

“It means investing in our teachers to increase teacher pay, making sure Williamson County Schools gets its fair share of the Basic Education Program (BEP) state dollars, and finding creative solutions to supplement state funding. Currently, WCS gets about half of BEP funding compared to other districts. Yes, this county is affluent, and yes, we are thankful to have parents and PTOs that can make up for a lack in funding, but for the single mom that lives on a fixed income or the child that gets free-and-reduced lunch, it’s important that I fight for this funding if I’m elected.

 

“My opponent has waged a war on teachers and educators by blocking legislation that would allow collective bargaining between the Tennessee Education Association (TEA) and local school boards, which ultimately strips away the TEA’s ability to advocate for increased teacher pay. If elected, I’ll be an advocate for teachers and make sure their voices are heard.”

Home Page asked candidates in June: “Several counties have sued the state over the BEP funding formula. Although Williamson isn’t one of them, school system leaders have raised concerns about the BEP as well. What is your reaction to the lawsuits, and how would you address this issue?”

“The school funding situation is bad enough that parents are selling wrapping paper and holding bake sales to cover basics. My daughter is a student at Moore Elementary. When her school’s playground finally rotted, it was up to parents to pay for a new one. That’s not how it’s supposed to be. Our legislature’s biggest responsibility is to adequately fund education, and it’s obvious that our current legislators are failing in that regard.”

In the Williamson Herald candidate profile, Rogers said: “Vouchers will come up again next year, and our teachers and students deserve a representative who will speak for them and keep our tax dollars inside our public schools. I’m very involved with the Williamson County school board and have been following this closely. In fact, Superintendent Mike Looney contributed a maximum donation to my campaign. I will fight to keep taxpayer money in our public schools and work with our commissioners to fully fund our public schools.”

This was a question at the Home Page candidate forum on 10/12. “What is your assessment of the Haslam administration’s work on education in Tennessee including K-8 policy as well as changes in the governance of colleges?” Watch the video for Courtenay Rogers’ response.

At the Herald/WAKM Coffee and Conversation event on education, Rogers said:

“Public education is top priority. When we had some drama a couple of years ago, I was made aware of some issues. I had a school board representative who wasn’t productive. It was important for me to be active and vocal. I led the charge. I started a petition. I got people out to school board meetings.”

 

“Schools are the backbone of our economy. It’s why we have Nissan and Mars coming to Williamson County. I want my daughter to have the best education possible. We have to fully fund our public schools.

 

“From a state perspective, they say ‘Williamson County. Y’all are rich. You don’t need all this money from the state.’ We have amazing PTOS and a lot of times it’s the PTOs and parents who are making up funding. MY daughter goes to Moore and two years ago and they needed a new playground. The PTO and the parents raised almost $50,000 for a new playground. But what about the places who don’t have high wealth or PTOs or just throw money at the problem. I think as taxpayers it’s our responsibility and the state for us to step up and fight.”

Education-Related Campaign Support

Rogers was endorsed by teachers union TEA.

Relationship with Williamson County Schools

Courtenay Rogers has a daughter in FSSD who is currently zoned for Centennial High School.

Rogers started a petition for Susan Curlee to resign from the Williamson County School Board. The petition garnered more than 2,100 signatures. Rogers presented the petition at the July 2015 WCSB meeting.

Rogers helped to organize a rally in September 2015 about Susan Curlee’s use of the R-word on Twitter.

WCS Superintendent Mike Looney contributed $1,500 to Rogers’ campaign, and WCSB member Anne McGraw contributed $150.

 

District 65 State House

Holly McCall

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Political Experience

Holly McCall has never run for office before, but she is a longtime Democratic activist who served most recently as press representative for the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign in Tennessee. She also worked on the campaigns of mayoral candidate Charles Robert Bone and at-large Metro Councilman John Cooper during the runoff election.

McCall picked up a petition to run for the District 65 seat on March 21. She ran unopposed in the August primary and received 878 votes.

Education Platform

“Education: Preparing our Children for Tech Careers

 

“Williamson County has the best schools in the state, but we are in no position to rest on our reputation.

 

“As our state representative, I’ll assertively work to ensure our schools get our fair share of state funds so we can continue to give our children the education that will prepare them for success in the careers of their choosing.

 

“In the past few years, some members of the state legislature have lobbied to pass bills that would funnel state money to government vouchers – enabling public funds to pay for private school tuition. I’ll fight to make sure our tax dollars go to our public schools.

 

“We know that the job market is evolving and our kids need to be prepared to compete in technical jobs. Williamson County Schools fosters innovation, through STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) programs like the drone technology program at the new Nolensville High School, and through educators like Centennial High’s Stacy Kizer, noted as one of the best STEM teachers in the state.”

September Video on Education in Williamson County

September Interview with Constituent Jennifer Alvey on Education in Williamson County

Education Opinion, Tennessean 9/15/16

“I’ve talked to thousands of parents in my district and they strongly oppose outside intervention from the state and federal government through vehicles such as school vouchers, charter school expansion and Common Core requirements. Williamson County has excellent public schools, and parents want to do everything they can to sustain that excellence while making improvements at the local level.

 

“Two focal points of my campaign I discuss with parents — and that are very applicable to public education — are using common-sense, data-driven approaches to the way we legislate, and preserving local governments’ ability to make many decisions locally. I understand there may be a need for charter schools and other state and federal programs in some areas of the state, because what’s best for one school district is not the best for all, but that’s clearly not the case here: Ravenwood and Brentwood High are on Newsweek’s list of top public high schools.

 

“At the same time, Williamson County schools should not rest on their laurels, but should look for ways to continuously improve. A top-notch public education system is critical for our quality of life. It drives business relocation and expansion, provides those businesses with a better local workforce, and contributes to the overall quality of life in our county and in Middle Tennessee.

 

“As health care, technology, and building and infrastructure expansion have become the drivers of Williamson County’s and Middle Tennessee’s industries, I’ve become a strong advocate for more STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs in our schools. This project-based curriculum is proven to better prepare students for college and for high-paying jobs out of high school. If elected to the House of Representatives in District 65, I will work hard to bring more STEM offerings to Tennessee schools that want them, and I will work with leaders in Williamson County to implement them into our public schools.”

 

“As a proud product of the Franklin Special School District and Williamson County Schools, I’ll place the voices of parents and teachers and the needs of students before special interests. I will listen to constituents, utilize data and best practices, and rely on common sense and good judgment to do the right thing for Williamson County and Tennessee.”

Home Page asked candidates in June: “Several counties have sued the state over the BEP funding formula. Although Williamson isn’t one of them, school system leaders have raised concerns about the BEP as well. What is your reaction to the lawsuits, and how would you address this issue?”

“Litigation should be the last resort in any issue. Our school leaders are understandably concerned about the amount we contribute to the BEP formula, but in Williamson County, we have thoughtful enough leaders to attempt a solution through more collaborative means first.

 

“The BEP was created by a Democratic governor, Phil Bredesen, and BEP 2.0 was revised by a Republican one, Bill Haslam, but the formula has never been fully funded.

 

“This is an instance in which common sense and pragmatism must trump partisan and ideological issues for the good of our children. As legislators, our first priority should be to fully fund the BEP through work with the governor’s office and the Department of Education.”

This was a question at the Home Page candidate forum on 10/12. “What is your position statewide on the use of school vouchers?” Watch the video for Holly McCall’s response.

At the Herald/WAKM Coffee and Conversation event on education, McCall said:

“Right now, there’s such a super majority that one more vote in the super majority doesn’t make much of a difference. I think my vote matters more. In committee, I can stop a bad bill from going forward, I can fight vouchers, which we’ve seen become increasingly popular in legislative action in the last few years.”

 

“The BEP has not been updated since 2007. We are putting a lot of money in that doesn’t come back. I am not going to blow smoke and say that I have the solution. But it’s going to be a fight to get our fair share. I don’t have all the answers to education. We have great schools, but we are going to have to continue to address growth.

 

“What I mostly hear from parents is they want to make sure their child gets the education for the college they want to go to. Mostly what I hear from administration is there is a real viable concern about vouchers. If someone wants to have their child going to a private schools, that’s fine. I don’t think charter schools are something we need here. From teachers I hear they want the state stop forcing the mandated tests down their throat.

 

“We are lucky we’ve addressed the small issue, but the issues left are the pretty big ones.”

Education-Related Campaign Support

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Relationship with Williamson County Schools

McCall attended FSSD schools and graduated from Franklin High School. Her mother, Pat McCall, served on the FSSD Board of Education for 12 years.

 

Sam Whitson

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Political Experience

Sam Whitson is a political newcomer who has never run for office before. He picked up a petition to run against Jeremy Durham on January 11. Incumbent Jeremy Durham suspended his campaign on July 14. Whitson won the Republican primary with 3,682 votes (Durham garnered 645 votes, and Stacy Givens who did not campaign got 303).

Education Platform

“Reject government over-reach & fight for more local control of our schools”

Regarding charter schools, Whitson told the Home Page he would want to leave that issue up to the local school boards.

“I understand charter schools are allowed under the state of Tennessee in our current law. I respect that, and I would like for local systems to decide if they want a charter school or not. STAND hasn’t asked me to do anything in particular, and I haven’t made promises. Their main concern is they want to make sure that the legislators are honorable and responsible people.”

[Note: The decision to approve charter schools locally does not exist. The state has final say over whether a charter school can enter a local school district based on a law that went into effect in May 2014. Unelected state officials can overrule local school boards and decide what is in the “best interests of the pupils, school district, or community.” WCS had unanimously passed a resolution opposing the bill, but all of our legislators – Casada, Durham, Sargent and Johnson – voted for the bill.]

Home Page asked candidates in June: “Several counties have sued the state over the BEP funding formula. Although Williamson isn’t one of them, school system leaders have raised concerns about the BEP as well. What is your reaction to the lawsuits, and how would you address this issue?”

“Williamson County schools have at times not received their fair share of state funding.

 

“A new BEP formula needs to be created that accurately identifies the true cost of educating students in our rapidly growing school system. A school system should not be disadvantaged from a funding perspective based on high performance or the economic success of the county. One of my top priorities will be to ensure our schools receive their fair share of funding and that they are rewarded, not punished, for their success.

 

“In regards to the lawsuits, I applaud the BEP funding increase by $220 million with $100 million allocated for teacher salaries in the 2015 state budget. Proof that sustaining our state’s economic growth with business friendly legislation benefits every student and teacher in our state.

 

“The taxpayer’s money must be directed to building new schools for our county’s rapid growing student population rather than paying for lawsuits at the local and state levels.”

At the Herald/WAKM Coffee and Conversation event on education, Whitson said:

“[If elected], I’m going to work [with districts before the state imposes] any mandates on our local schools, that we call our local education authorities, the [Franklin Special School District] and [Williamson County Schools] to make sure mandates are coordinated before [the state] implements them.”

 

“If you look at my campaign from the beginning, support for public schools is something I’ve addressed from the beginning. I have five grandchildren in our public schools. They love their schools and teachers and staff. We are truly blessed in this county. Two of my daughter in laws have always been a vocal and active participant. My wife worked in the Franklin Special School District for years. We talk a lot about our county schools, but we also have the FSSD who do a great job in our county. We tend to forget about them in the conversation.

 

“My wife and family have been actively involved in school board elections and that was recognized not only in the primary but in this election in being endorsed by the Tennessee Education Association. I appreciate greatly the job they have done.

 

“I demonstrated support for public schools. My rhetoric demonstrated support for public schools.

 

“I am going to lean on Charles Sargent to lead me through the BEP maze. We are down to 44 cents on the dollar. We used to have the highest paid teachers in the state and now we don’t.

 

“I wouldn’t support anything that takes money away from our public schools in Williamson County, period.”

In a 10/19 Nashville Scene article, Whitson said his main issues are education and transportation.

Although he received sizable backing from the pro-charter Stand for Children PAC in the primary, Whitson says he doesn’t support anything that takes money out of public schools — at least, from Williamson Council public schools.

 

“It’s not on my agenda to go up there for vouchers or charter schools,” Whitson says, though he won’t unequivocally state that he will not cast a vote in support of either. “You can say this: I worry about anything that takes money away from our public schools.”

 

Whitson says he also has concerns about the bathroom bill, which is likely to return next session, and he says those kinds of decisions are best left up to local schools, not the state. But he says his best strength as a politician will be the fact that he’s not one.

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Education-Related Campaign Support

Oregon-based pro-charter organization Stand for Children spent more than $100K on the District 65 House Republican primary to help Sam Whitson defeat Rep. Jeremy Durham, who suspended his campaign on July 14. Whitson said, “They sought me out. I appreciate their support. I don’t agree with 100 percent of their positions, but I am willing to listen and keep an open mind. They were supporting me when no one else would support this campaign against Jeremy Durham.” Stand for Children PAC contributed $7,000 to Whitson’s campaign, and their Independent Expenditure Committee spent $92,383 on mailers.

[Note: The Stand for Children organizations and four losing MNPS school board candidates endorsed by Stand for Children are embroiled in a campaign finance investigation by the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance. Each candidate was the recipient of more than $70K in monetary contributions and campaign support. Fines could be more than $500K.]

Whitson was endorsed by teachers union TEA and received a $2,000 campaign contribution.

He also received $1,500 from Lee Beaman, who serves on the board of pro-voucher Beacon Center of Tennessee.

In June, Whitson was endorsed by the Williamson Business PAC, which also endorsed five current Williamson County School Board members.

Relationship with Williamson County Schools

Whitson has five grandchildren in WCS.

 

WSVote

 

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