There is a growing focus on education choice across the United States, especially here in Tennessee. When you discuss parent choice, everybody immediately thinks of vouchers. Vouchers are only one form of choice. When you discuss school choice, the debate is unfairly focused between public and private. Terminology is constantly changing and evolving, and the words themselves create unnecessary conflict. Before we step further into the debate, I think there is one choice that is being ignored as an option: open enrollment or voluntary public school choice.

We must expand open enrollment policies in our public school districts. There are two primary types of open enrollment policies: 1) Intra-district enrollment policies, where students may transfer to schools within their home districts. 2) Inter-district enrollment policies, where students may transfer to schools outside of their home districts. Both are forms of choice.

Currently, Tennessee has voluntary intra-district and inter-district open enrollment policies. That may need to change, if districts do not get more aggressive in championing parental options in public education. Hopefully, that will be led by district leaders or school boards across the state. We need to make open enrollment a high priority.

Today, our workforce is highly mobile. Many adults no longer work in the community they reside. This is very clear in Middle Tennessee, which is exploding with population growth with more on the way. If we want parents involved in their child’s education, it would only make sense that public school options become more convenient for the adult who then often provides the transportation.

Currently, open enrollment policies may be either mandatory or voluntary. Under mandatory programs, districts must allow for open enrollment. Under voluntary programs, districts may choose whether to allow for open enrollment. It is easy to see that the direction by the state will be to move from voluntary to mandatory, if districts do not adopt open enrollment policies or do a better job of highlighting voluntary public school choice.

Questions that policymakers and the media should ask: 1) What districts in Tennessee allow students to transfer to schools within their home districts? 2) What districts in Tennessee do not allow students to transfer to schools within their home districts? 3) What districts in Tennessee accept students transferring to schools outside of their home district?

As the focus on education choice is elevated by Governor-elect Bill Lee, maybe the easiest place to find initial consensus is with open enrollment. Mandatory open enrollment policies will likely be promoted by the state. This could either be accomplished by funding, new legislation, or districts adopting new policies. Intra-district and Inter-district open enrollment policies must be on the table, when the subject of education choice is discussed. The message is that public schools are the best option for parents. Parents should be able to trust public schools to educate all children to the best of their ability.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited.

the golden rule

The Golden Rule is the principle of treating others as one would wish to be treated. It is a maxim that is found in many religions and cultures.  Living by the Golden Rule can serve any person well. But here are some addition reflections for the journey ahead:

  • Life is a gift and not a burden. Even on bad days, we have so much to be thankful for.
  • Love is a choice and an action. It involves risk, perseverance, sacrifice, and hard work. Love drives out fear.
  • God is working in ways that we cannot even begin to understand.
  • Pain and suffering are real, but they always make us stronger.
  • Admitting we are wrong from time to time is necessary and healthy.
  • Technology is both a blessing and a danger. It will run and even ruin our lives if we let it.
  • Social media is a great way to connect but can quickly lead to narcissism.
  • Be realistic about taking on commitments. Being busy has become a sign of status. Sometimes simplifying our lives is the best option.
  • Money can buy lots of things but it cannot buy happiness and meaning. Many wealthy people are miserable and have not figured out the meaning of life. We all create idols in life without even knowing it.
  • Knowledge is power, but it’s different from wisdom. Personal growth is essential. We are all works in progress.
  • Theology is a life-long endeavor. God cannot be put into a box.
  •  We should never say things about other people that we wouldn’t want them to hear. If we say it, we should be willing to stand by it. Nobody wants a two-faced friend.
  • Materialism and a false sense of self-sufficiency is an ongoing temptation in North America. The more affluent the society, the more distractions to real faith. Christ was right: “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Heart follows treasure. Money makes a great servant but a terrible master.
  • The government is not the answer to every problem, but it is responsible for certain things. Hateful partisanship and incivility have the potential to tear our nation apart from the inside out. Neither Republicans nor Democrats have a
    monopoly on truth. Labels are dangerous. Civility is admirable.
  • The birth lottery is real. Some are born to privilege. Some are born to poverty. If you’re born on third base, don’t act like you hit a triple. Be humble and grateful every day.
  • Fear and anxiety must be faced, acknowledged, and sometimes medicated. Anxiety is simply fear of the unknown and will ruin the present.
  • Tell the truth because lying is a slippery slope. Truth seems to be in short supply.
  • Don’t judge people based on their age, religion, or skin color. We can always gain insight from those who are different.
  • The United States is a wonderful country but it’s not the only nation under God.
  • Travel to new places. Expand your worldview. Don’t stay in a bubble.
  •  Perception is not always reality. Accusations can be false. Rumors can ruin somebody’s reputation. Groupthink is dangerous. Always check the source.
  • Credibility is built over time. Trust is built over a lifetime and is the currency of relationships.
  • Love your family, even when it’s hard. Forgiveness is a recipe for survival.
  • Be thankful for friends, for they are one of life’s greatest treasures.
  • Pray regularly. Eat healthy. Exercise often. Read to learn. Hope. Dream. Listen intently. Be slow to speak and slow to anger. Live life one day at a time. Plan for the future.
  • The grass may seem greener elsewhere, but usually, it’s not.
  • Learn from the past, dream for the future, and live in the present.

Adapted from many places.  What would you add?  

 

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Vouchers are likely to return both at the Tennessee General Assembly in 2018 and in the upcoming gubernatorial election. The issue has been debated and discussed for many years across our state. Public school teachers, administrators, superintendents and school boards, especially the members of our organization, are almost universal in opposition. Almost 90% of the children in our state currently attend a public school.   Our organization, Professional Educators of Tennessee, continues to oppose vouchers here in Tennessee.

Politicians across Tennessee, who ran for election or re-election in 2016, ran on one message: Tennessee is on the right track in public education. Nothing has changed. In fact, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is the largest nationally representative and continuing assessment of what America’s students know and can do in various subject areas. Tennessee is number one in improvement in both English and math for both 4th and 8th grade on the 2012 NAEP test scores and is number one in improvement in science on 2016 test scores. We are on the right track according to state politicians, and referenced in testimony by Economist Art Laffer in the Tennessee General Assembly in 2017.

Here is some additional food for thought:

  • Private schools will eventually be subjected to new regulations. There will, and there should be, strings attached if any school takes taxpayer money. Just look at these quotes: “A public school would become any school that receives students who brought with them public monies” –Lamar Alexander, former Secretary of Education under George Bush.  His words should serve as a warning to all private and parochial schools.
  • There are very limited seats available in accredited private schools. In Florida as vouchers were expanding in 2003, it was discovered that a state of 24 million had less than 5,000 seats in private schools available. Florida was a rapidly growing state and is approximately four times the size of Tennessee. A best estimate is there are only 1200 to 1500 seats available in Tennessee at accredited private schools that may be willing to take a voucher student. We would challenge voucher proponent to produce the statistics of seats available at an accredited private school that would accept a student for a $7,000 voucher.
  • Public Schools are more than a safety net. Many schools serving poor children throughout the United States are overwhelmed by the social needs of the children they serve. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), 15.3 million children under 18 in the United States live in households where they are unable to consistently access enough nutritious food necessary for a healthy life. These 8 states have statistically higher food insecurity rates than the US national average (14.6%): Arkansas (21.2%), Mississippi (21.1%), Texas (18.0%), Tennessee (17.4%), North Carolina (17.3%), Missouri (16.9%), Georgia (16.6%), and Ohio (16.0%). More than 1 in 5 children is at risk of hunger. Among African-Americans and Latinos, it’s 1 in 3 according to the USDA. Our public schools are dealing with this issue, largely without additional resources or even acknowledgment by state and federal officials. Taking money from public schools, either rural or urban districts, will impact that school and community.

It is important that we remind ourselves of the purpose of public education under the Tennessee Constitution: “The state of Tennessee recognizes the inherent value of education and encourages its support. The General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance, support and eligibility standards of a system of free public schools.” Tennessee has a responsibility to ensure the right of all children to a quality education.

Most educators do not support the status quo in public education and strive to raise the bar every day. They understand an engaging and challenging education is the proven path to prosperity and a life-long love of learning. It has long been acknowledged that a strong educational system is essential not only to the successful functioning of a democracy, but also to its future. Therefore, we remain focused on our public schools in Tennessee, the teachers we serve and the students they serve.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee.  Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited.