Who works for whom? On lobbying, legislators, WCS and being “like-minded”

Lobbyist, schmobbyist!

At the work session Thursday night, the board debated a proposal to spend $15,000 to hire a lobbyist to make sure the WCS perspective is heard at the capitol. There was some back and forth about whether a lobbyist would be worth the money. Note that the board recently declined to spend $10,000 to join the Tennessee School Board Association (“smacks of the UN” said one new board member). Thus, if they decide not to hire a lobbyist, WCS will apparently be the ONLY school district in the state to have no professional representation in the capitol during the legislative session.

This might have been alright in the days before Tennessee became a wild west for privatization lobbyists. Last year, they outnumbered public school lobbyists by a factor of 10 to 1. Declaring that we will not have any representation at the capitol is proudly announcing that we will not be suiting up for the game while the other team is already warming up on the field (and declaring their right to take our field).

Unless our school board doesn’t want the interests of public schools represented? Surely not.

Big Strong Legislators

We also heard Thursday night that there is no need for professional lobbying help because of our big strong legislative delegation. Honestly, there was swooning. The Williamson County delegation does have clout – that is not disputed. But then Beth Burgos said that “we” are very “like-minded” with our legislative delegation on education issues…

Let’s assume that by speaking of “our” perspective, Dr. Burgos meant WCS as a whole and not, say, just some of the board members or, say, she and the Eagle Forum or 912 or any other “we.” She was sitting at a board meeting so she must have been saying that the educational interests of the Williamson County delegation are very much aligned with WCS’s interests. Right?

We WCS parents and taxpayers might need some clarification on what “we” (WCS board members?) think and compare that to the actions of our legislators. We’re all for accountability for students and teachers, right?  How about legislators?

Let’s look at some recent history. 

Note that our delegation includes Senator Jack Johnson, and Representatives Glen Casada, Jeremy Durham, and Charles Sargent.

Local Control and Charter Schools: In 2013 and 2014, our delegation supported a bill that passed this year that takes decision-making away from local school boards and instead lets unelected STATE officials decide if a charter school can come into a local area. It used to be that a locally elected school board had final approval over whether a charter school could enter its district in certain situations. Now, that is NOT the case. Now, unelected state officials can overrule local school boards and decide what is in the “best interests of the pupils, school district, or community.”

 

WCS unanimously passed a resolution AGAINST this bill.

 

Our entire legislative delegation (Casada, Durham, Sargent, and Johnson) voted FOR it.

 

Lobbying: Rep. Jeremy Durham sponsored this legislation that would have allowed county commissions to line-item veto school board spending on lobbyists. Mr. Durham told constituents that he put together this bill at the behest of local homeschoolers who did not like Dr. Looney and wanted another way to hinder WCS advocacy. This bill was supported by school privatization groups and the anti-public school, pro-privatization, big-money organization Americans for Prosperity (remember them?).

 

Just to refresh: In an era when education privatization lobbyists are flocking to Tennessee like, well, like pigs to the trough and throwing around hundreds of thousands of dollars on lobbying and campaign contributions, our legislators voted to make it harder for public school voices to be heard.

 

WSC unanimously passed a resolution AGAINST this bill.

 

Rep. Durham SPONSORED the anti-lobbying bill. The rest of the delegation (Sargent, Casada, and Johnson) all voted FOR it.

 

Guns in Parks: There was also a 2014 bill in the legislature which would take away the right of local governments to make local decisions to allow (or not allow) guns in local parks. (Note that in 2010 the Williamson County Commission voted 19-5 against allowing guns in county parks.) Again, the bill would have allowed the state to take away the county’s right to decide.

 

WCS unanimously passed a resolution OPPOSING this bill because it would conflict with school policy regarding guns at student events. School sports teams regularly use local parks for events and practice.

 

Not all of the legislators voted on it because it died in committee, but Jack Johnson and Glen Casada are both on record in SUPPORT of the state bill to take away local authority on this matter.

 

Textbook Committee: This bill changed parts of the state law related to textbook approval and created the textbook review committees at the local level. See additional information here. Board members Burgos and Emerson are both veterans of this campaign.

 

WCS unanimously passed a resolution AGAINST this bill.

 

The entire Williamson county delegation voted FOR it.

Like-minded?

It’s not clear if the airtight confidence in our legislative delegation from some of our school board members is misinformed or if in fact there is a new legislative agenda that we are not aware of. There is agreement on opposition to Common Core both locally and at the state level. Other than that, though, where is this like-mindedness?

  • Does this WCS board support giving away local control to the state? Our legislators have voted for that.
  • Does this WCS board support privatization of schools? Is this board for more charters? For vouchers? Note that while WCS has resolutions in place against vouchers and charters, our legislators have supported such privatization measures.
  • Does this WCS board support taking away the rights of local governments (including cities and counties) and giving more decision-making authority to the state? Our legislators have voted for that. 

Given Rep. Casada’s and Durham’s engagement with the local school board race, it appears that they were working hard to make sure that THEIR agenda (also the privatization agenda and the AFP agenda) was reflected in the local school board rather than the other way around.

We feel like “we” parents of boys and girls in WCS need to get clear on what the school board agenda will be for the state legislature. Based on the last couple years, if some of the new school board members think the legislative agenda is lined up with “our” agenda, we are very, very confused.

 

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