Some teachers are calling it blackmail when the Tennessee Department of Education pulled finances from a school system whose administration follows the local school board directives.
The Tennessee Department of Education’s decision this week to withhold more than $3.4 million from Metro Nashville Public Schools is yet another example of the state overreaching and taking control away from locally elected school boards.
According to the Jackson Sun, Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman said the funding was withheld as a result of the board “brazenly violating the law” that enables the state panel to have supreme authority when it comes to charter school applications.
“When a state board decides, ‘We’re just going to violate the law because we feel like it,’ that’s when we have to take action,” he said. “That’s what this is about.”
“It is disappointing, but not surprising, that the department is punishing a local school board for doing what it thinks is best for its community,” said Gera Summerford, Sevier County math teacher and TEA president. “Just this spring the state was adamant about the importance of local control for student success in Tennessee’s public schools.”
Summerford continued, “School systems operate most effectively when decisions are made collaboratively among educators, parents, local school boards, and other community stakeholders. It is unprecedented for the state to reach past a local board of education and dictate who will run a successful public school that is in no way deficient.”
“It is unfortunate that the state has chosen to penalize the school system in a way that can negatively impact its students,” Summerford said. “This ‘state knows best’ approach is not in the best interest of children. We are hopeful that today’s meeting between the chair of the MNPS board and the state’s representatives results in a more appropriate resolution.”
This state overreach is reminiscent of the legislature’s refusal to allow exceptions to repeal of the Education Professional Negotiations Act in 2011, which would have enabled local school boards to continue collective bargaining in those districts choosing to do so.
The Tennessee Education Association is the state’s largest professional organization representing over 46,000 elementary and secondary teachers, school administrators, education support professionals, higher education faculty, and students preparing to become teachers.
By Wes Hall