Archives

Tennessee corporate welfare

Check out this new website which has an interactive map that tells where corporate welfare is being handed out.

http://endcorporatehandouts.com/

In Blount County

Corporate Handouts for Alcoa

Alcoa, Inc. $950,000 training reimbursement 2013
K12 Management, Inc. $148,800 training reimbursement 2014
ProNova Solutions, LLC $525,000 training reimbursement  2013

Corporate Handouts for Maryville

Alcoa, Inc. $2,200,000 grant/low-cost loan 2013
Microtherm, Inc. $14,700 training reimbursement 2013
Surface Ignighter, LLC $540,000 training reimbursement 2013

Corporate Handouts for Rockford

Cooper Standard Rockford  $45,000 training reimbursement 2013

Not everything on this website is written by me

There are some in the community who think that everything on this website is written by me (Tona Monroe).  That is not the case.  This site was never intended to be a website solely with material written by me.  I own domains with my name and could just as easily write the material there.

There are some in the community who think that I agree with everything written on this website.  That is not the case either.  My intention in creating this website was never to have complete and total agreement with every word posted here.

The litmus test for content on this website was never complete and total agreement with my views and is not the case now.  My goals are to promote freedom and transparency in government.  Those are the reasons why I started this website and why I continue publishing on this website.  Those are also the reasons that I ran for office and what I hope to achieve while in office.

The content here is intended to be thought provoking while promoting freedom and openness in government.  Everything that is posted here should no more be viewed as my opinions than letters to the editors are viewed as being the opinions of the editors at newspapers.

As I’ve said many times before and will continue saying, let freedom ring!

June 2015 Commission Report

“And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not.”  2 Peter 2:3

This month I did a lot of writing on issues prior to the monthly commission meeting.  If you haven’t already done so, please take the time to read those articles prior to reading this report.  Alternatively, you can read those articles that are linked throughout this report.

Agenda Meeting
The Commission rejected my request to move the Commission meeting to a bigger venue.  A move to one of the school auditoriums would have given all people the opportunity to sit and watch the commission meeting.  Instead people who arrived early were locked out of the commission room.

As a result, people in the commission room were cold and those left standing outside the meeting room were burning up.  The request came after the Chairman, Jerome Moon, ordered standing citizens out of the room last month while allowing uniformed officers to line the wall.

Commission Meeting

The fix is in – Commission raises property tax rate before voting on budget

State law requires the commission to pass an appropriations resolution (annual budget) and a property tax rate resolution.  In the interest of protecting the taxpayers, I tried to have the budget placed ahead of the tax rate for purposes of discussion.  Putting the tax rate ahead of the budget means that the fix is in as there is no incentive to cut the budget after the property tax rate has been set.

In a poor economic environment, where the commission wants to hold the line on taxes but is handed a bloated budget from the Budget Committee recommending a tax increase, the commission could set the rate ahead of the budget and then work on the budget until it is balanced without a tax increase.  That isn’t what happened though and there are still problems with setting the tax rate first.

The tax rate isn’t just one number.  In past years the tax rate has fixed the levy for three funds, General County, General Purpose Schools and Debt Service.  This year, after a court opinion in McMinn County, a new fund for Capital Education Projects was added.  Thus, the Commission isn’t voting on just one number in the tax rate but four.  How would the commission know how much to fix for each fund without discussing the budget?  Debt service is straight forward but the rest require discussion.  It doesn’t make sense to set the rate before knowing how much you are going to spend in each fund.  Do you know any business that sets the price of the products or services before they have any idea what their expenses are?

Voting for the tax rate first and then discussing the budget allows commissioners to play political games with their constituents because some commissioners will vote no on the tax rate or abstain knowing that the increase will pass but then will vote yes on the budget which caused the increase.  Voting for the budget which caused the increase has the same effect as the vote on the tax rate increase.  It spends the same amount of your money and these commissioners are just as responsible as those who didn’t play games with their yes vote on the tax increase.

My motion to discuss the budget before the tax rate failed 3-18 with only Commissioners Daly, Miller and myself (Monroe) voting to discuss the budget before fixing the tax rate.  The fix was in with a tax increase approved before the commission discussed the budget.

A citizen contacted me several days before the vote and told me what the tax rate would be.  Another contacted me telling me that the tax rate had already been determined but I would not be included.

It came as no surprise when commissioners Rick Carver and Gary Farmer offered amendments that set the tax rate at what I had been told without explaining why that was the rate needed.  Somehow those of us who weren’t included were just suppose to magically know where the reductions in increases (some call these cuts) would be made when the tax rate was voted on before the appropriations resolution, without any discussion as to why the tax rate of $2.47 was the one to go with.

Consensus and stifling of debate
There seemed to be a consensus amongst the majority of commissioners.  How they would know where Rick Carver was going to amend the budget and why he felt no need to explain it to the commission or to the public why those were the changes to make is beyond me.  Debate was stifled through parliamentary procedure and the only explanation given to the citizens as to why Carver’s cuts were the only ones that should be made was the comment from the Finance Director.

Commissioner Andy Allen moved to cut off debate on all amendments and the main motion moving adoption of the budget.  Only four commissioners voted not to cut off debate on over $175 million of your money.  Commissioners Grady Caskey, Tom Cole, Karen Miller and Tona Monroe voted to continue debate.  The rest voted to stifle debate.

Six commissioners voted no on the tax rate and the budget
A game that some commissioners play with their constituents is voting no or abstaining on the tax rate but voting yes on the budget that requires a tax increase to pay for it.  Only six commissioners voted no on both.  The contradictory votes of the one who abstained and other who voted no on the tax rate but yes on the budget should be viewed for the game and hypocrisy that it is.

The six commissioner who voted no are Mike Akard, Archie Archer, Tom Cole, Jamie Daly, Karen Miller and Tona Monroe.

Conflicts of interest
Several commissioners read conflict of interest statements prior to voting on the budget.  Sadly there are more who should have read statements but didn’t.  Since debate on the budget was stifled through parliamentary procedure, the commission spent more time reading conflict of interest statements than it did voting on the main motion adopting the annual budget.

Obtaining information
The public should know how difficult it can be at times to obtain information to make informed decisions.  Some are quick to provide information while others are not.

During the budget process I met with the Finance Director Randy Vineyard.  While I have been critical of his withholding information and not giving me a straight answer in the past, he actually was quite accommodating during the budget process.  He hired a new lady, Angelie Shankle, who took my questions and got answers to me promptly.  There is another lady in Accounting named Susan Gennoe who quickly works to get answers.  Both of these ladies have pleasant demeanors and based on my experiences with them appear to be doing their jobs well.

Troy Logan, Finance Director for the Schools, has always given me straight answers.  I met with him and he provided me with everything that I asked for.

Last year when I asked for information about the jail John Adams and Jeff French were quick to provide me with information.  The budget process with the Sheriff’s Office was not a pleasant experience.  Marian O’Briant, the PR person for the Sheriff’s Office attacked me multiple times, was slow to respond and told me that she was getting paid overtime to write me a short email that didn’t answer my questions.  The Sheriff’s Office doesn’t need a PR person.  Upper management is paid well and could answer media questions.

I never received the complete breakdown of the compensation from the Evergreen study that I asked for.  The study was incomplete, inadequate and it was a hasty decision for the commission to act on the study.  It was my intention to propose an alternative pay option for deputies in the Sheriff’s Office instead of using an unfinished study to base pay raises on.  15 minutes prior to the start of the Commission meeting, I was given a tiny portion of the information that I had asked for.  It was not broken down into the categories necessary to propose the alternative pay option making it impossible for me to propose an alternate solution.

Employees to be paid above average wages based on unfinished study

The pay recommendations of the Evergreen study are not based on merit.  Furthermore, county employees will be paid above average wages.

The story told me about the need for the study is that county officials got together and decided that they wanted to pay “competitive” wages.  An economist friend of mine pointed out that many positions in government aren’t competitive because they don’t compete in a free market, with the only competition being between surrounding governments.  He said that the more accurate description is that that the study would look at paying similar or better wages.

The officials looked at paying better wages that are above average.  Officials didn’t look to bring wages to average based on the 50th percentile.  The study was based on a pay scale of the 60th percentile of pay.  That would be reasonable if Blount County had a robust economy but it doesn’t.

The ET Index shows that Blount County is the only county in the eight county region where pay has actually dropped .5% after inflation.  Blount County is tied for the biggest drop in median household income at 15%, and is about $7,000 less than it was in 2000.  This type of economic environment is not conducive to a big tax increase.  The people of Blount County are living on substantially less and will now be forced to live on even less thanks to the big property tax increase.  Office holders should have looked harder to control spending and make pay more equitable.  Pay raises based on the 50th percentile or my alternative proposal that I wasn’t able to make because of the lack of information provided would have been more reasonable.  Government often lacks reason in the way it approaches problems.

The Evergreen study still has the word draft stamped on it but the FY 16 budget was built around the draft which only contained 3 of the 5 chapters that will be available in the final report.  No one would run a business this way if they wanted to stay in business and it is embarrassing to see the county run this way.

Fear mongering and Sheriff’s political playbook
Several people wrote me about their displeasure with the head of the library using their email addresses to solicit support for the tax increase.  The fear mongering worked on some because I got a few emails telling me to support raising taxes because of the library.  Overall, people saw through it and weren’t happy about the situation.

Every couple of years the Sheriff drags out his playbook and we go through the same predictable procedure of hearing about the lowest paid deputies.  This tugs on heart strings causing some to be willing to support a tax increase without knowing how much of a pay gap exists within government departments and offices.  The state sets minimum salaries for office holders, which are much higher than they should be but the county is compelled by law to pay those salaries.

This commission can raise the salaries above the state minimum for some office holders and it did that in FY15.  The Sheriff makes about the cost of an entire deputy salary above the state minimum.  He has no credibility talking about how much he cares about the deputies.  Actions speak louder than words.  He could have given this money to his employees but chose not to.  The same is true for Tom Hatcher, Bill Dunlap and Ed Mitchell.

My motion to the cut the salaries of these elected officials failed 4-16-1.  Commissioners Akard, Daly, Miller and I voted to cut their salaries.  Shawn Carter abstained.  The rest voted no.

Probation Services is projected to lose money in the new budget year
The political machine has bragged for several years that Probation Services makes money for the county.  It’s not a lot of money but Probation has usually been revenue positive, leaving more in the general fund than was spent administer the service.  However, that seems to coming to an end.  The approved budget for FY 16 projects that Probation Services will actually lose about $2,200.

Notice the budgeted increase in pay for the Administrator position.  More on that later.

Fund/Cost Center Title FY 14 FY 15 FY 16
105 Administrator $57,250 $65,000 $65,462
53910 Probation Services $504,783 $606,563 $624,482
43393 Fees Probation $607,026 $657,245 $622,250

Schools get a big increase in local revenue
Blount County Schools will see a huge increase in local revenue.  The sales tax increase last year will result in $2 million in increased revenue.  The creation of a Capital Educations Projects fund will result in about a $1.27 million increase funded by a 4 cent property tax increase.  State funding for the schools will be about the same as it was last year because the school population is up only slightly.

The sales tax increase was promoted to the public to be used to fund the purchase of textbooks, technology and infrastructure improvements.  The schools will getting about $1.27 million earmarked for infrastructure improvements.  A recent article in the paper shows that the majority of the $2 million from the sales tax increase will go to increased compensation rather than textbooks and technology.  Thus, we may hear the same old stories next year about there being no money for textbooks and computers.

I recently learned about a book keeper who has been with the schools for over 40 years.  She makes less than the part time PR person employed by the schools.  It was upsetting to read in the paper that the increase will be used to make a part time PR position full time.  This is definitely not a priority item over textbooks and computers.  I’ve asked for a breakdown of the school budget to see exactly how much is going to be spent on technology and textbooks and waiting for that response.

Several teachers voted no on giving the schools a million dollars.  A motion was made to cut $1 million from the economic development budget leaving it with about $62,000 since there is little accountability to the taxpayers.  Commissioners Akard, Archer, Carter, Daly, Miller and Monroe voted yes.  Commissioners Cole and Farmer abstained.  The rest voted yes.  Commissioners Grady Caskey, Dodd Crowe and Tom Stinnett, all teachers, voted no on giving the schools the money and allowing the unaccountability of this taxpayer money to continue.

The Blount Partnership is a private entity and Bryan Daniels denied my request for their budget.  However, it consists of many of the same people involved with the Industrial Development Board (IDB) and the Chamber of Commerce.  Apparently the IDB can go out and make promises to private business and hand the taxpayers the bill.  The commission doesn’t vote on these deals/promises made to private business and we are often not even informed what type of deals/promises are made.  It is absolutely wrong to allow a board to go out and promise taxpayer money to private businesses and then levy a tax on your home to pay for it.  Furthermore, some of these same people are involved with the Smoky Mountain Tourism Development Authority which is another unaccountable use of taxpayer money.

Budget
There is much more to say about the budget but I will stop here because this report is approaching a treatise.

Grant policy routinely violated
Office holders and department heads have repeatedly shown that the authority of the commission means nothing to them.  The commission is expected to rubber stamp grants and not ask questions.  The Chairman, Jerome Moon, tried to stop me from asking questions at the Commission meeting because I had asked questions at the Agenda meeting.  After the Agenda meeting, I did some homework and came prepared with questions to ask at the Commission meeting.  Apparently the Chairman doesn’t think you should actually do your job as a County Commissioner by researching matters and coming prepared with questions. What’s the point of having a meeting if you aren’t going to do your homework and come prepared to discuss the items on the agenda?

The deadline to apply for nearly every grant that the commission is asked to vote on has already passed before being brought to the commission.  Explanations are never given unless I ask why.  The Budget Committee never asks why the grants aren’t presented in a timely manner.  When I asked Jeff French why the deadline for the grant request from the Sheriff’s Office had already passed, he told me he didn’t know.  His name is listed as the reporting person.  See page 48.

The grant from the Facilities Coordinator, under the Mayor, didn’t even have a grant worksheet with the request in the Budget Committee and Agenda Committee meetings.  It only appeared in the Commission meeting packet after I pointed this out at the Agenda meeting.

While I was begrudgingly allowed to ask some questions about the energy efficiency grant for court house building improvements, I wasn’t able to ask everything.  When my questioning revealed that the county had already received the grant, without any commission oversight, knowledge or inclusion on the matter, the Chairman asked Commissioner Farmer to amend his motion to ratify the grant rather than to approve the worksheet to apply for the grant.  I had my light on to be recognized to speak to ask further questions but the Chairman turned it off.  I then asked if we were only voting on the amendment.  Chairman Moon shook his head yes in answer to my question.  After voting on the amendment, the Chairman proceeded on to the next Agenda item when we hadn’t even voted on the main motion, just the amendment.

I still had questions about how the county would benefit from energy efficiency in replacing the windows when the grant application said it would take over 179 years for the energy cost savings to be more than the cost of the windows.  See page 62 for the payback period.

RAC2 district created
The Commission voted to create what will eventually be a special new zone.  The wording is tricky saying that it isn’t creating a zone but it allows for it in the future and the effect is to allow special development privileges for a handful of properties.

“This section does not amend the Zoning Map, nor zone nor rezone any land to RAC2, but only identifies limits to location for any land that may in the future be zoned RAC2.”

This request morphed into nothing more than a crony deal for an office holder to develop his land when the rest of us can’t.  The matter has been the subject of discussion since 2013 in the Planning Commission.  It would have been quicker and simpler to have just sent the commission the crony deal to start with since the good ole’ boys get what they wanted.

Why do we have zoning regulations when anyone who is politically connected can get them amended to do what they want?  Zoning has become a tool of the politically connected to develop their land while squashing competition.  Unfortunately, some “conservationists” go along with this as those it’s a good thing for our community to create laws and regulations with special favors for the politically connected few while discriminating against everyone else.

Only Commissioners Akard, Cole, Daly, Miller and Monroe voted against this crony deal.  The rest took care of a political office holder while discriminating against you.

Blount County Corrections Partnership
The Corrections Partnership heard from Bob Bass of the Tennessee Corrections Institute.  He previously asked to speak to the Partnership about what he does in other counties, leading me to believe that he was going to offer solutions to reduce jail overcrowding.  He offered none.  His presentation was on the role of the jail and did not address how to reduce the overcrowding problem.

The only person to ask any questions was me.  I asked him what the TCI’s position was on keeping federal inmates when the jail is overcrowded.  He said the TCI doesn’t have a position.

After the meeting, it became apparent to me after further discussion with the people from the TCI that they want the county to build a new jail pod.  The inspector told me that work programs don’t work and the ILPP report didn’t tell me anything that I didn’t already know.  Actually the jail the report told me several disturbing things about our criminal justice system that I didn’t know.  It was the TCI presentation that didn’t tell me anything that I don’t already know.

A member of the community shared with me that the Sheriff didn’t get what he wanted in the jail study so he is trying to get what he wants out of the state, which is a position that the jail should be expanded.  Unfortunately I am afraid that this person is right.

There are people who need to be in jail.  However, I have heard from people in a variety of situations who should not be in jail.  There are numerous factors to the jail overcrowding.  The jail study addresses several of those factors.

One factor that would quickly reduce the number of inmates is to stop taking federal prisoners.  The ILPP study that the Mayor and Sheriff don’t want to talk about in public says that we lose money on federal prisoners.  The Mayor went so far as to threaten filing a frivolous lawsuit.  Where is that lawsuit Mayor?

There is genuine fear in the community about speaking out about the Sheriff, the judges and the condition of the jail.  People share their stories with me but won’t go public for fear of retaliation against them or their loved ones.  It makes my job of advocating for meaningful reform more difficult because people won’t share their stories with the public.  Couple the fear with a Sheriff who wants to expand political power with a bigger jail, and Mayor who has bowed to the Sheriff and some judges who can’t handle criticism and you have a mess.

The jail overcrowding is a multilayered problem.  One big layer of the problem that can be peeled off is the optional practice of keeping federal inmates.  For those of you who aren’t afraid of the Sheriff, tell him that you don’t want the county to keep federal inmates any longer.  His email address is jlb@bcso.com and his phone number is 273-5000.

Role of government
One thing that emerged during budget discussions with the people of my district is what the role of government should be.  I had several people telling me that they are tired of paying taxes for services that they don’t use.  People are tired of paying for the schools, library and parks when they don’t use them.  Others told me that they are tired of having to pay fees to use these three, when they are already paying taxes on them.  Theselegitament points are frequently buried and not fully vetted in debate about taxes.

People complained to me about the schools always saying that they never get enough money.  Others expressed to me that they aren’t happy with upper management making big salaries.  Others homeschooling or sending their kids to private school feel that they shouldn’t pay taxes for public education when they pay for their kids education.

People complained to me about having to pay for the library when they don’t use it.  Others told me that they love the library and would pay more taxes for it.  Others said that they find the fees that the library charges to use meeting rooms ridiculous when they pay taxes for the library.

People complained to me that they are tried of paying taxes for Parks and Rec when they charges big fees for summer time activities.

These are all legitimate points worthy of discussion, not suppression and emotional, libelous branding of the people who make them.  Should people pay taxes for services that they don’t use?  Some County Offices are fee offices like the County Clerk’s Office and the Circuit Court Clerk’s Office.  They are funded by fees rather than taxes.  Should services like the library and Parks and Rec be funded by fees from the people who use them, rather than taxing the homes of people who don’t use them?  Some people certainly think so.

Media coverage
People regularly send me emails asking why the media doesn’t cover more local government issues.  They also complain to me about media bias favoring the good ole’ boys.

One person commented about the paper in Knox County offering a more balanced approach to the coverage of deputy pay while the local paper ran several puff pieces in support of the Sheriff’s Office.  Others have complained to me about the editorials always supporting Senators Doug Overbey, Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker.

The best place to address these concerns are with local media sources although I did publish some of what was sent to me here.

Up next
County Revenue Commissioners.  This is an old statute still on the books that I found that could bring some transparency and accountability to a local government that lacks an Audit Committee.  Newly elected Commissioners in multiple counties are trying to revive the positions since Audit Committees are optional unless the Comptroller requires one and even then an Audit Committee may do nothing.  The Comptroller is talking about having it repealed since they enjoy being in charge.  Tell your state elected officials that a fully functioning Audit Committee should be required or the County Revenue Commissioners law should stay.

Question for the people of Blount County
Each month I spend a great deal of time writing lengthy detailed commission reports.  One of my campaign promises included writing commission reports and I will continue to keep that promise.  Do you want the reports to continue to be as detailed as they are now?  Or would shorter reports suffice?

Where are the Common Core MOUs? – Part 2

MOUs

by Eric Holcombe

 

In my previous post, I showed you the State Dept. of Education has admitted that the federal government-provided Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) claimed to be signed by all the Tennessee public school districts (directors of schools as well as local school board chairs and union representatives when applicable) in the Race To The Top (RTTT) application for millions in federal taxpayer funds simply “do not exist”.

The state Dept. of Education lied on the RTTT application for federal millions. The picture above is the information that I was given when I requested the federal MOU signature pages. These are different, state-generated MOUs, not the federal government-provided one claimed to have been signed by all the districts in the RTTT application. In addition, none of them are signed prior to the RTTT application date of January 18, 2010. At the time of this writing, the state is still maintaining copies of these MOUs along with the attached “scope of work” for each district here. As a follow-up to this delivery of paper MOUs, I sent a second request with four questions, which resulted in only the first one being answered essentially admitting the state lied about the unanimous support of the federal MOU. The other questions were not answered. They were as follows:

 

“2. If not, did the local chairs of boards of education and/or the local union representative in these districts sign another MOU such as the altered one signed by the directors of schools that have been provided to me?

3. Were there any other MOUs related to RTTT requirements signed by these three parties (directors of schools, chairs of local school boards, union representatives) that are dated prior to the RTTT application date of January 18, 2010?

4. Who wrote this portion of the RTTT application quoted above regarding the “sign on” rate of the school districts to the sample MOU? Education First?”

 

I now have the answer to questions 2 and 3. In that big stack of paper the State Dept. of Education provided, there are four school districts missing. There is something curious about all four of these districts that I believe made the State Dept. of Education decide to delete them from my request:

 

They have different MOUs from the rest. They also are signed in December of 2009 – before the first “confidential” draft of the Common Core “state” Standards even existed (January 13, 2010).

 

Here are the districts:

 

Jackson County, Jackson-Madison County, Sullivan County and West TN School for the Deaf. A fifth district was partially withheld: Marshall County. Marshall County has two MOUs, one signed in December 2009 and another different version signed in June 2010. The State Dept. of Education chose to only give me the later version in their response. At the time of this writing, the state RTTT website still shows the 2009 dated MOU for all these districts.

 

Note the language on this 2009 MOU, especially under “Assurances”. This MOU is more similar to the federal version language and has the four signature blocks. The district leadership had to “assure” that their LEA certifies and represents they were familiar with the still-under-construction 1100-page RTTT application and were “committed to working on all or significant portions of the State Plan”. They were asked to sign this MOU agreement while the application was still in the works.The “confidential” first rough draft of the Common Core “state” Standards didn’t exist yet and wouldn’t exist in any form the state could review until just five days prior to the RTTT application being submitted to the federal government.

A couple of items of interest:

 

  1. Jackson-Madison County. Note that the TEA representative Janis Carroll added an attachment to her signed agreement to the MOU assuring implementation of RTTT application requirements (before they existed). She appears to have signed under protest and notes her signature is made “with reservations” (page 12) and refers to an attachment (page 14). You can get an impression from the concerns listed there that probably all of the districts were facing the same uninformed concerns, most notably her first one:Our members have not seen the Race To The Top application or its requirements.Remember, this is signed on December 15 2009. Makes all those rubber-stamp letters of endorsement dated about the same time look even more ridiculous, because you know they couldn’t and didn’t read the application either. And of course, Common Core doesn’t exist yet in its first “confidential” draft for anyone to review.
  2. This December 2009 MOU refers to a different “Preliminary Scope of Work” attached as Exhibit 1 (page 13) and is more vague than the later versions. This earlier attachment is only found in four of the five districts.
  3. Marshall County shows both a December 2009 signed by all three parties and a June 2010 MOU signed only by the director of schools typical of the other districts. Both versions of the “scope of work” are present also. It is interesting to see how this language changed pre to post RTTT application.
  4. The Jackson County file includes instructions they were sent for completing the scope of work forms and a state Race To The Top timeline. Note that this timeline begins in March 2010 after award of the federal taxpayer money. There will be another post coming on these instructions and timeline. This isn’t the first version of them.

We now have established:

A) The State of Tennessee lied on the RTTT federal grant application about the signed agreement of the local school district directors, school board chairs and TEA representatives to the requirements of RTTT including the concealed implementation of the Common Core “state” Standards and greatly increased data mining of students.

B) There was in fact effort by the State Dept. of Education to strong arm districts into committing to the requirements of the RTTT application including the Common Core “state” Standards concealed within before the first “confidential” draft of those standards even existed. This is evidenced by the five districts having signed the MOUs in December 2009. This was done when at least one district (Jackson – Madison County) did not even have the application to review.

C) The State Dept. of Education doesn’t want us to know about A or B and attempted to hide the early MOUs from me. Unless of course you believe it is just coincidence that only these four districts (and half of Marshall County) were missing from their response. They also declined to answer if any MOUs were signed by districts prior to the RTTT application date of January 18, 2010. Obviously, there were some. For the RTTT application to be legal, there should be one for every district and it would have to be the federal version MOU.

More to come…

 

 

Where are the Common Core MOUs?

rotten-applecore-673by Eric Holcombe

I believe the TN State Dept. of Ed. is guilty of fraud at the federal level for lying on the Race To The Top Application for hundreds of millions received in federal taxpayer funds.

I found the recent story of the petition circulating amongst various public school district leaders and the TEA’s version in Nashville and Williamson County stating a vote of “no confidence” in state education commissioner Kevin Huffman a little surprising, if not hypocritical. If you have looked at the State of Tennessee’s application for Race To The Top (RTTT), you know there was a requirement for the states to show solidarity among the public school districts by signing a memorandum of understanding (MOU) committing themselves to the requirements contained in the 1100-page Race To The Top application which included great expansion of data collection on the students, mandatory online achievement testing, as well as implementing the Common Core “State” Standards (or if you had the time and resources, implementing your own multi-state consortium of academic standards instead). The state made the claim in this application that their goals were aligned to the federal department of education, so they used the MOU provided by the federal department of education and obtained signatures from not only the directors of schools, but the school board chairs and teacher’s union representative (as applicable) from nearly every district in TN.

From page 17 Section A(1)(ii)(a) in the RTTT application:

We also used the U.S. Department of Education’s sample MOU because our goals were aligned with it and because our districts asked for an MOU as soon as possible so they could have discussions with their unions and school boards. The MOU, reflecting the terms and conditions of our application, is attached as Appendix A-1-2.

• Section A(1)(ii)(b): Similarly, we sent the U.S. Department of Education’s sample Scope of Work because we believed our goals were aligned with it. We are pleased that 100% of our 136 participating districts and 4 state special schools committed to each and every reform criterion, as the summary table demonstrates. We achieved this sign-on rate even though all participating LEAs will have to implement a bold set of policy and practice changes, including using student growth as one of multiple measures in evaluating and compensating teachers and leaders; denying tenure to teachers who are deemed ineffective as gauged partly by student growth; relinquishing control over their persistently lowest-achieving schools; increasing the number of students who are taught by effective teachers; and, in many cases, opening their doors to more charter schools. The sample Scope of Work is attached as Appendix A-1-3.

• Section A(1)(ii)(c): As a sign of our statewide approach, 131 of our 136 participating districts and 4 state special schools submitted all three applicable signatures – superintendent, school board president, and union leader.The summary table demonstrates that we had 100% success rates in obtaining the signature of every superintendent and applicable school board president, and a 93% success rate in obtaining the signature of every applicable local teachers’ union leader. (Not all Tennessee school districts have collective bargaining; nonetheless, we asked for the support of local union/association leaders regardless of whether they represented teachers in a collective-bargaining capacity.)”

 I found it pretty interesting that all those directors of schools and union leaders who allegedly signed the Federal Dept. of Ed. MOU selling their souls for Common Core would develop convenient amnesia and start complaining about Huffman implementing the very things contained in the application they would have sworn assurance to “be familiar with” and agree to. I was figuring they really didn’t read the 1100-page application and possibly didn’t actually see the first “confidential” rough draft of the Common Core “state” Standards that were contained in the application. I suspected they had to hurry and rubber stamp their approval (like the legislators, gubernatorial candidates, charter operators, philanthropists and colleges did). I was particularly interested in the date they signed these MOUs. Here’s why:

 1.    The date of the Race To The Top application is January 18, 2010.

2.    The “confidential” first rough draft of the Common Core “state” Standards contained within the application is dated January 13, 2010, only five days prior.

3.   I  figured there was no way these directors, school board chairs and union reps actually read this stuff, but it would be especially ridiculous if their signatures on the MOUs were dated prior to January 13, 2010 because that would mean it was not possible to even see the first rough draft of Common Core before committing to whatever it becomes in the future.

I requested an electronic copy of these signed MOUs from the state Dept. of Ed. After an initial written response announcing a 10-day delay to collect the information, I was told on day ten that these were on legal sized paper and it would be “easiest for them” for me to come to Nashville to pick up copies. I agreed and traveled to Nashville to pick them up. Upon receipt of the copies, I noticed that not only were the provided MOUs NOT the same federal-government-provided ones claimed to be signed in the Race To The Top application, but in addition they were only signed by the directors of schools. Also, I was surprised by the signature dates. They were all signed in May and June of 2010, four to five months AFTER the Race To The Top application and at least 45 days after the RTTT money was awarded to Tennessee.

 I made a second request for the signed federal-government-provided MOUs including the quoted portion above from the RTTT application that explicitly states all the signatures were collected on the federal MOUs:

1. Did the 131 participating districts and 4 special school districts submit this MOU included in Appendix A of the RTTT application signed by all parties as claimed in the RTTT application? If so, this was the information I originally requested and still want to obtain copies for all districts.

2. If not, did the local chairs of boards of education and/or the local union representative in these districts sign another MOU such as the altered one signed by the directors of schools that have been provided to me?

3. Were there any other MOUs related to RTTT requirements signed by these three parties (directors of schools, chairs of local school boards, union representatives) that are dated prior to the RTTT application date of January 18, 2010?

4. Who wrote this portion of the RTTT application quoted above regarding the “sign on” rate of the school districts to the sample MOU? Education First?”

The response I received truncated my questions to answer only #1 above, ignoring the follow-ups. The answer: They do not exist.

Now the protest and petition by the directors of schools makes sense. So do the words of White County HS Assistant Principal Jerry Lowery in the Senate Education Committee “fact-finding” hearing: “We were presented with a done deal and now we are caught in a web that we never spun”.

Bottom line: The State of Tennessee committed federal fraud in obtaining hundred of millions of taxpayer dollars by lying on the RTTT application about the non-existent, local “unanimous support” for RTTT and the Common Core standards to improve their grant score.

The Common Core “state” Standards first became available for the public to view and comment on March 17, 2010. This is nearly 60 days after Tennessee’s RTTT application was submitted on January 18, 2010 committing TN schools to the standards that didn’t exist yet. Round one RTTT money was awarded on March 29, 2010, less than two weeks later.

Not a single Tennessee director of schools, school board chair or TEA representative had signed either the Federal Dept. of Ed. MOU or the altered state version MOUs yet. This would not happen for another 60-90 days. These were all signed in May and June, presumably in order for the State Board of Ed. To pass Common Core in their special called meeting in July as they promised to do in the RTTT application.

If you would like to see the MOUs that were actually signed (only by the directors of schools), those can be found on the state’s RTTT website here at the bottom of the page under “Approved District Scopes of Work” by school district. These are identical to the copies that were provided to me. I am not certain why the department didn’t simply refer me to these electronic versions rather than give me the run-around with the paper copies, but it is possible they didn’t know they existed since the two contacts I made were not employed there in 2010 (Bredesen’s administration). Within these documents, you can also see what spending each district committed to for the amount of RTTT money they were to be awarded. Of course this is all taking place after the federal grant was awarded to the state. There is an additional “scope of work” signature block with spaces for the director of schools, school board chair and TEA representative or funding agency for the district that is not signed. The TEA representative block has been made “optional” when it is used. A second, rotated copy of this page follows with the signatures. However, these signatures only assure their awareness that the money provided is one-time and will not cover any recurring expenses the district commits to in spending the RTTT money. Only the directors of schools committed the school districts to implementation of RTTT requirements with the altered state-version MOUs two months after the money was awarded. These state-version signed MOUs and LEA commitments follow the scope of work tables with projected expenditures. Note that these MOUs are even more vague than the one provided by the Federal Dept. of Ed, such that it is certainly not clear what you are committing to. I hope your director of schools read all 1100 pages before selling you out for some one-time money and signing onto that last line:

Although all programs listed in the commitments have not been developed, my LEA will participate as they become available. Even though my LEA may or may not spend RTTT funds on the elements of RTTT, I do understand my LEA will be expected to support/implement the commitments listed above.

Good luck with that. Might be worth looking back at your April, May, June 2010 board meeting minutes for discussion on completely changing all the academic standards, mandatory online testing, etc.

So, my questions to the State Dept. of Ed remain:

  1. Were there any other MOUs related to RTTT requirements signed by these three parties (directors of schools, chairs of local school boards, union representatives) that are dated prior to the RTTT application date of January 18, 2010?

  2. Who wrote this portion of the RTTT application quoted above regarding the “sign on” rate of the school districts to the sample MOU? Education First?

 

 

Common Core is bought and paid for

haslam bredesen gates

by: Eric Holcombe

I made a prediction (without seeing the speaker list) that 90% of the proponents of Common Core “state” Standards in last Friday’s Senate Education Committee hearing would fall into one of two groups (if not both):

1. They are part of an organization that received direct or indirect funding (meaning millions of dollars) from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as payment to implement the standards (note: this includes the National Governors Association (Phil Bredesen, Bill Haslam), the Council of Chief State School Officers (Tim Webb, Kevin Huffman), Achieve Inc. (Phil Bredesen, Bill Haslam), the testing arms Race To the Top created: PARCC and SBAC (Kevin Huffman), Memphis City Schools, among others. I.e., they have a financial conflict of interest to be there.

2. They are part of an organization that endorsed the Common Core “state” Standards via the Race To The Top application with a rubber-stamp letter or a Memorandum of Understanding dated prior to the “confidential” draft of the standards being made available to the state on January 13, 2010, only five days before the Race To The Top application was submitted on January 18, 2010. (note: this includes the State Board of Education, Tennessee School Boards Association, State of Tennessee Higher Education Commission, The University of Tennessee Chattanooga, Knoxville and Martin, Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents, ALL 136 district directors of schools, ALL 136 district school board chairmen, the TEA and their local affiliates, among others. They all endorsed standards that weren’t available to see in “confidential” draft form and wouldn’t be available for public comment for another 60 days.

Well, it turns out I was wrong. Only 88% of the proponents fit the bill:

A. Kevin Huffman – Huffman serves on the governing board for PARCC, the national testing organization created with Race To The Top federal funds – and the testing arm Tennessee is committed to. Also as Commissioner of Education, he has great latitude in authority since the reform legislation was passed (First To The Top Act of 2010 and the Complete College TN Act of 2010) and the promises that Tennessee made in the Race To The Top Application. PARCC’s “project manager” is Achieve Inc., which received multi-millions from the Gates Foundation. Bill Haslam is on the board of directors of this Washington DC corporation. Phil Bredesen was formerly co-chair.

B. Jamie Woodson – Former state senator who was very prominent in passage of the First To The Top Act of 2010 and the Complete College TN Act of 2010. Once these were accomplished, she quit to become president and CEO of Bill Frist’s TNSCORE organization, which has received over $1.8 million from the Gates Foundation. Woodson is also in the second category as she signed one of the rubber-stamp letters endorsing the Race To The Top application which committed Tennessee to implementing the Common Core “state” Standards. Of course, Bill Frist did the same on January 14, 2010, one day after the “confidential” draft of Common Core was made available.

C. Clint Satterfield – Director of schools for Trousdale County. Clint is of course one of the 136 directors of schools who signed the Memorandum of Understanding (date unknown) provided by the federal government which claimed an “assurance” that they were “familiar with” the Race To The Top application which of course committed Tennessee to implementing the Common Core “state” Standards. I doubt these were turned around in the span of five days from January 13, 2010 when the first “confidential” draft was made available and January 18, 2010 when the application was submitted. He rubber-stamped Common Core without reading the 1111-page application just like the rest. Clint is also part of a special group of taxpayer-funded Common Core lobbyists called LIFT.

D. Michael Petrilli – Executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, which also received over $6 million from the Gates Foundation. Fordham is being paid to do this all over the country and are supposed to be the “right wing” think tank to appeal to the Republican sheep. I told you the players in Common Core come from both sides against the middle. As Petrilli gets up to leave, Sen. Tate says “hopefully the check is in the mail” (at the 4:04:39 mark).

E. Casie Jones – Teacher from Martin Luther King Transition academy in Memphis, an alternative school for convicted juvenile delinquents to transition back into “traditional” classrooms. Casey made an impressive plea for the “rigorous” Common Core “state” Standards, however this would seem to be diametrically opposed to her previous pleas to maintain the Not Meeting Standards (NMS) program in 2010 where failing students were not given an “F”, but more of an “incomplete”. And of course, since the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation pumped $90 million into City of Memphis schools, she falls into category 1. If instead she were counted as a Teach For America employee, she would fall into the rubber-stamper category 2.

F. Candice McQueen – Dean of Education, Lipscomb University. McQueen serves in Tennessee’s Educator Leader Cadre for the PARCC testing Consortium and also serves as the liaison for higher education for the State Department of Education’s Common Core State Standards Leadership Council for K-12 and on the Common Core advisory board for the Tennessee Higher Education Commission’s Institutes of Higher Education. She like Woodson is a double dipper. Work for PARCC puts her in Category 1 and work for the rubber-stampers of the State Department of Education and the Tennessee Higher Education Commission puts her in Category 2.

G. Pitt Hyde III – Founder of Autozone. Pitt being asked here just highlights the fact that these standards are about serving employer business needs, not educating. This being one of the claims of the opponents of Common Core, made it rather humorous that Pitt was selected to speak on the state’s behalf. Of course, Pitt is one of the rubber-stampers that endorsed Race To The Top with his December 18, 2009 letter found in Appendix A of the Race To The Top application, dated three weeks prior to the “confidential” draft of the Common Core “state” Standards even being available to the states.

H. Lt. Col. Eric Goslowsky – Director of Tennessee Guard Family Support Programs. Goslowsky was the only pro-Common Core speaker for the day that didn’t fit my two categories. I believe he was there primarily to generate an appeal to fear as he reminded us that only ½ of 1% “wear the uniform” and if we don’t implement the Common Core “state” Standards (which haven’t been proven anywhere period), then terrorists will invade our country and no one will be there to defend you – and he will have to homeschool his one child that is still in school because our schools suck so bad without them that he has left his child in the sucky system the entire time, or he may take an assignment in California (where they will have Common Core) so hurry up and implement them.
I will give Goslowsky credit for being the ONLY proponent there that actually had some skin in the game, because that is the one thing continually missing from all the “demand” for Common Core – the actual parents and taxpayers.

Common Core “state” Standards – Whodunit Part 3 – Commiting to standards that don’t exist

In Part 1, I introduced you to the Tennessee Race To The Top (RTTT) application for federal taxpayer funds that committed the public schools in Tennessee to implementing the Common Core “state” Standards – before they were even available for public review, and the signatories of this agreement. In Part 2, I showed you the additional unanimous, blind agreement of all 136 directors of schools and all 136 school board presidents to whatever the state said in the RTTP application to get their federal money. Also, we reviewed the two pieces of legislation that were hurriedly passed as part of the “reforms” necessary to implement Common Core and keep those promises made in the RTTT application and who those bill sponsors were. In this post, we will take a look at the specific promises to implement the Common Core found within the RTTT application, because despite being told repeatedly that Common Core is “state-led”, we just don’t find it anywhere in the legislation passed by our elected legislators, even though the First To The Top Act was explicitly made part of the RTTT application . You will only find it in the promises to the federal government as part of Race To The Top application in order to get federal taxpayer dollars.

Here are a few excerpts from the RTTT application that obliged all public schools in Tennessee to the Common Core (signed by Governor Bredesen, Education Commissioner Tim Webb and State Board of Education President B. Fielding Rolston) while they weren’t even available yet for public comment:

 

page 14: “New standards and aligned assessments are major tools in teachers’ toolboxes, and we are committed to making the standards even stronger through adoption of the Common Core. In this application, we describe the process we will use to adopt the Common Core, the timeline for implementation, and the way in which we will ensure that Tennessee educators receive training on the new standards.”

I must have heard that “tools in the toolboxes” quote from Jamie Woodson about a hundred times when she was working on the “reform” legislation.

page 15: “We seek to organize our efforts and interventions around this data, enabling it to be used from the Capitol to the classroom. We believe that an expansion from a K-12 data system to a P-20 data system, as well as the creation of an early-warning system, will enable us to reach our graduation rate goal of 90%.”

Just in case you forgot begging the Governor to start tracking all students from pre-kindergarten to four years AFTER they leave college with a diploma. Giving the level of  information proposed in Common Core via the Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems (SLDS) to the federal government is illegal and a violation of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).  The U.S. Department of Education (an unconstitutional entity itself) KNOWS this and sees FERPA as a roadblock for the data-mining in Common Core.  The U.S. Dept of Education has altered FERPA to empower the data-mining within Common Core and they have been sued for doing so, by the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

page 16: “The stars in Tennessee – the Governor’s Office, the General Assembly, the Department of Education, the State Board of Education, the Tennessee Board of Regents, the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, leading business associations, philanthropic foundations, and community groups – are aligned when it comes to the next generation of education innovation. The support ranges from our Congressional delegation in Washington, D.C., to the organization representing our five largest district superintendents, to the statewide Tennessee State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE), chaired by former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist…”

Gee, I guess that just about covers everybody who got paid by Bill Gates. Any response from the students or their parents? Oh, that’s right, the “public” draft isn’t available yet…

page 44: “First, we know our state assessment does not measure the level of rigor we know students must experience to succeed, which is why our performance on the NAEP has trailed that of our state assessment. With the introduction of a new test aligned to the tougher Common Core standards, we expect that student proficiency rates will more closely mirror those reported on the NAEP.”

This statement does not fit the “official” story that Common Core is only a set of standards, not a curriculum and not tests. Of course, since the English Language Arts author, David Coleman (who has never taught English in any capacity), has since moved on to become president of the College Board, he is re-writing the SAT college entrance exams to “align” with Common Core.

page 48:We will continue to lead by adopting the Common Core standards at a special State Board of Education meeting the last two weeks of July 2010.

Remember, they aren’t even available for public viewing at this point and won’t be until March 2010, but here the state declares they will be adopted.

page 49:Governor Bredesen and Education Commissioner Timothy Webb have signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) to join the Common Core standards initiative led by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. The initiative will result in new K-12 grade-by-grade standards in mathematics and English, including a set of college- and career ready standards, which Tennessee will adopt in July 2010.”

NGA and CCSSO both paid millions by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Plus, we are sold the story that the Governors made these standards as part of NGA. Here it is made to sound as if they do not yet exist (which is true), but that Tennessee will adopt them in July 2010 – when they cannot even know what they are yet.

page 49: Achieve has notified us that it will conduct a grade-by-grade alignment study between our standards and the Common Core. Based on our previous work with Achieve, we expect our standards to be well-aligned with the Common Core standards, but will make any adjustments as needed. Please see Appendix B-1-1 for a copy of the Common Core MOA, Appendix B-1-2 for a copy of the proposed Common Core standards, Appendix B-1-3 for documentation that they will be internationally benchmarked and prepare students for career-readiness, Appendix B-1-4 for a list of participating states, Appendix B-1-5 for our College and Career-Ready Policy Institute (CCRPI) plan submission, and Appendix B-1-6 for a final feedback letter from our CCRPI partners.”

Well, that’s nice that the Washington D.C. company paid millions by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is going to conduct an alignment to Common Core. I thought these were supposed to be “state-led”. Don’t we know what we want? Keep in mind these standards do not yet exist, yet again we are committing to make “any adjustments as needed”. Here is a link to Appendix B where you can see what is being called the “standards” on January 18, 2010. Notice the MOA is dated April 28, 2009 and labeled Draft/For Discussion Only. Yet, Governor Phil Bredesen and Education Commissioner Tim Webb have signed it?  Also note that the document following purported to be the Common Core State Standards beginning on page 14 have a “CONFIDENTIAL”  watermark and the heading that states these are a “DRAFT-1/13/10”. That is the Wednesday before this RTTT application was delivered on Monday 1/18/2010. I guess there was a really thorough, around-the-clock review of these standards in order to put this application together and claim that Tennessee would adopt these incomplete standards no matter what and would make any adjustments needed to adopt them. Doesn’t this seem just slightly irresponsible to you?

If these Common Core “state” Standards are “state-led” and not federally-demanded, why is Tennessee committing to the federal government to implement something that doesn’t exist yet – and since they are supposed to have originated with us, why don’t we know what they are and are relying on Washington D.C. non-profits funded by Bill Gates to tell us?

Part 4 in this series will show the multitude of “higher” education leaders, state and federal legislators, candidates for governor, business “leaders” and others who gave their rubber-stamp approval of this ridiculous commitment to standards that didn’t even exist yet.

Common Core “state” Standards – Whodunit Part 1

by Eric Holcombe

As the Tennessee Senate Education Committee meets this week for a “fact-finding” session on the Common Core “state” Standards, I thought it was important to show you where these came from, who approved and lobbied for them at the state level and who should have a good memory about what they are and where they came from.

The “official” story we have been given is that the Common Core “state” Standards are a “state-led” initiative and originated through the work of a small number of state governors (including Phil Bredesen) via the National Governors Association (NGA); that they are internationally benchmarked academic standards for Math and English Language Arts (ELA) only; that these are “proven” and “rigorous” standards;  and that they apply to the P-20 years (meaning pre-Kingergarten to four years post college graduation). I have previously shown how the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation spent hundreds of millions of dollars influencing the creation and implementation of these standards and that federal taxpayer funds were used as a bribe in the Race To The Top (RTTT), a.k.a. Race To The Trough, initiative to force acceptance of the Common Core “state” Standards on the states in order to have any chance of receiving the federal money. In this post, I will introduce you to Tennessee’s application for RTTT and point out some key promises made in that application and more importantly WHEN those promises were made and exactly WHO made the promises. Future posts will explore some of the interesting players in the application that endorsed the idea of committing all the public schools in the state to the Common Core “state” Standards upon the condition of receiving federal money.

After you see some of this information and the players involved, you will like me be scratching your head at the idea that the state legislature needs to have a “fact-finding” meeting about Common Core or what is in it. The RTTT application is a lengthy document comprised of 264 pages that has seven appendices which include an additional 847 pages. The total application contains 1111 pages. At the time of this writing, the state Department of Education still has the documents on their website here. The RTTT application is dated January 18, 2010. The RTTT application deadline date set by the U.S. Department of Education was January 19, 2010. This date is important because of the testimony of Dr. Sandra Stotsky, the ELA expert on the Common Core Validation Committee:

“The deadline for producing a good draft of the college-readiness and grade-level ELA (and mathematics) standards was before January 19, 2010, the date the U.S. Department of Education had set for state applications to indicate a commitment to adopting the standards to qualify for Race to the Top grants. But the draft sent to state departments of education in early January was so poorly written and content-deficient that CCSSI had to delay releasing a public comment draft until March. The language in the March version had been cleaned up somewhat, but the draft was not much better in organization or substance – the result of unqualified drafters working with undue haste and untouchable premises. None of the public feedback to the March draft has ever been made available. The final version released in June 2010 contained most of the problems apparent in the first draft: lack of rigor (especially in the secondary standards), minimal content, lack of international benchmarking, lack of research support. In February 2010, I and presumably all other members of the VC received a “letter of certification” from the CCSSI staff for signing off on Common Core’s standards (even though the public comment draft wasn’t released until March 2010 and the final version wasn’t released until June).”

This is important because the people who signed off on this application and wrote letters of endorsement/encouragement and signed a memorandum of understanding agreeing to the promises made in the application did so without even knowing what the Common Core “state” Standards were yet. At best, assuming the “poorly written, content-deficient” draft was available January 4, 2010, in a two-week span this 1111 pages was assembled along with many rubber-stamp letters of endorsement. Some of those were even made in December of 2009. We, the public, are told in the “official” story that this effort is “state-led”, that allegedly this is something we the people must have asked our state leaders for, yet, there was not even a public-comment draft of the Common Core “state” Standards available until two months after the state of Tennessee committed to them. So who made that commitment that the public didn’t ask for?

Here is the RTTT application (less appendices):

Race To The Trough Application by horbunce

You will find the signatory parties to the application on pages 2 and 3 of the pdf. They are: Governor Phil Bredesen, “Chief State School Officer” Timothy Webb (the former Lewis County School superintendent and deputy education commissioner that was appointed to Commissioner of Education by Bredesen), the President of the State Board of Education, B. Fielding Rolston (also appointed by the Executive branch and confirmed by the legislature), and the TN State Attorney General, Bob Cooper (appointed by the TN State Supreme Court judges, who are illegally selected by the governor contrary to our state constitution). This “Chief State School Officer” language is not used by the state of Tennessee, but is a federal term referring to the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), which is one of the parties paid multi-millions by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation over recent years in Common Core implementation “encouragement”.

Beginning on page 10, there is a nice “imagine” story about a utopian public education system that would exist if only we had enough money. Some interesting quotes from that section:

page 11:“Two years ago, the American Diploma Project established the framework in our state for a public education system that is truly focused on college- and career-readiness. Today,
because of his powerful commitment and Tennessee’s extraordinary progress, Governor Bredesen is the national co-chair of Achieve, which leads the Diploma Project.

The Diploma Project was another program funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Achieve Inc. was given over $12.6 million for this purpose in 2008. As I have written before, Bredesen out, Haslam in at the board of Achieve Inc. and the Gates money kept rolling in. I would like to know why our governors felt it necessary to be on the board of a Washington D.C. company that wasn’t part of creating these “state-led” standards and yet it is a bragging point in our application to get federal money which, if we receive, we will then implement the Common Core “state” Standards.

 

page 12:

“To demonstrate our commitment to the Race to the Top philosophy — and to meet President Obama and Secretary Duncan’s bold challenge for transforming public education in America — Tennessee is responding in a comprehensive and bipartisan manner.”

Wait a minute, shouldn’t this say something more like, let us states show you the “state-led” standards we have already created and are implementing? I thought the federal government had nothing to do with this…

Last week, Governor Bredesen, Democrat and Republican lawmakers, the State Board of Education, the Tennessee Education Association, school districts, business groups, and child advocates joined together in the State Capitol for an extraordinary session of the legislature in order to focus the total energy and will of government on the single task of improving education. The result? Lawmakers enacted the most sweeping set of education reform measures in a generation – the Tennessee First to the Top Act of 2010.”

This piece of legislation (Senate Bill 5), along with the Complete College of Tennessee Act of 2010 (Senate Bill 6) were both passed in special session. The Tennessee First to the Top Act of 2010 is also contained within the RTTP application in Appendix E (p. 16). It was passed on January 15 and signed by Governor Bredesen on January 16, 2010.  Judging by the name of the bill, apparently they may have known they would be “first” ahead of time and awarded Round 1 RTTT money. The Complete College of Tennessee Act of 2010 was passed the next week on January 21 and signed by Governor Bredesen on January 26, 2010. These bills amount to the education “reforms” that were passed by the Tennessee Legislature dealing with a litany of things: charter schools, teacher evaluations and merit pay, achievement school districts and otherwise laying the foundation required to implement the Common Core “state” Standards in order to keep the promises made in the application for the federal taxpayer funds. Much has been made of charters and teacher evaluations, but you didn’t hear much about those “state-led” standards that we allegedly were asking for.

In fact, this application includes a letter of support from all seven Democrat and Republican candidates for governor – a show of bipartisan support that ensures our application will be carried out no matter who holds the governor’s office.

This is true and in a future post I will highlight the candidates for governor along with other elected and unelected officials that committed to enforcing Common Core on the state. Notice that only the Big Two parties are invited. Apparently they also know in advance that no one else will be elected as governor. More importantly, it proves this is not an R vs. D issue. They are both involved in the federal takeover of public education. Neither private political party will step up to rescue you, because they are both in on the game.

In the next post, we will see whom else had committed to these standards without being able to review them as well as the specific promises to implement the Common Core “state” Standards within Race To the Top.

Common Core “state” Standards for English Language Arts and Mathematics are a fraud

fraud

by Eric Holcombe

The Common Core “state” Standards have been pitched by both our state and federal governments as being “state-led” and something that a small group of state governors (12) cooked up in their spare time at National Governor’s Assocation (NGA) conferences. Phil Bredesen was among this group of twelve, though you will not remember the people of Tennessee, nor Phil Bredesen for that matter, requesting for Tennessee schools to be made exactly the same as all the other states in the country in English Language Arts (ELA) or Mathematics standards. He did spout the NGA-speak phrase “prepare our students to compete in the global marketplace” a lot. We mere taxpayers are to believe that allegedly this group of governors created these standards as part of the NGA. New standards for pre-Kindergarten through college age students and that we desired to measure all students for these school years and beyond to include four years AFTER the state has educated them for the first sixteen, thus the term P-20 you will find in the standards. This creation of standards allegedly occurred in 2008-2009, but for some reason, these state governors who just had to make us all exactly the same since we allegedly were begging them to, didn’t implement any of their academic standards back home. I’ll bet you can’t find a single press release from the Bredesen administration bragging about how he was instrumental in completely reforming our ELA or Mathematics standards for every public school in the country. Instead, implementing these standards was a requirement for obtaining the Race To The Trough federal funds. It was a part of most states’ applications to get the federal money – or of course, they wouldn’t get the federal money. Massive, online data mining is part of the Common Core and two new testing arms were created to administer all the data collection as part of Race To The Trough funding. Tennessee leadership is in deep. The fact is, our state committed to full implementation of Common Core in 2010 in order to get the federal carrot at Race To The Trough. When Governor Haslam later asked for and received a waiver from the No Child Left Behind federal requirements, this was a huge Common Core padlock that permits no deviation from the requirements of the Common Core “state” Standards. They cannot be deviated from,  only added to, but addition is capped at 15% because of the granted NCLB waiver. Of course we were having a hard time explaining why we were such a failure at NCLB that we needed a waiver since 80% of the schools would not make Adequate Yearly Progress, yet at the same time we had allegedly implemented Common Core two years earlier at Race To The Trough time and were wanting to report all this improvement with the “reforms”.  Of course all you ever remember reading are the stories about the “Mean Republicans” demanding teacher accountability, with Bill Frist and Jamie Woodson running interference with SCORE (a non-profit also created just in time to cash in on Race To The Trough). It is also important to note the arguments about Common Core being incessantly touted as  “rigorous” academic standards, though you will note once changing to them our scores went up, yet we still failed NCLB requirements simultaneously and begged for the waiver.

Of course the “official story” about Common Core is a lie. It was absolutely not “state-led”, nor was any of it implemented except as a condition to receive federal money. There are many players in this story, some benefit financially, some benefit ideologically. They don’t all come from the same political party. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation was instrumental on the financial side and has invested at least $120 million to various players in this scheme, including the NGA, the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), the NEA, the AFT, Memphis City Schools, Bill Frist’s SCORE among others. Other organizations were created as the game unfolded to cash in as the standards are implemented. So the school officers are paid off, the teacher’s unions are paid off, the governors are paid off. Did we leave anyone out?

Dr. Sandra Stotsky, professor emerita, University of Arkansas and R. James Milgram, professor emeritus of Stanford University are scheduled speakers for today’s conference at Notre Dame titled: The Changing Role of Education in America: Consequences of the Common Core.  Stotsky served as the English language arts (ELA) standards expert on the Common Core “state” Standards Validation Committee. Milgram served on the Validation Committee for the Mathematics standards. These folks have some very concerning things to say about these alleged “state-led” standards and the foundational meetings they were part of.  Stotsky has made her presentation available in advance which can be read in its entirety here. This is one serious smoking gun. I am including a few excerpts below.

For many months after the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI) was launched in early 2009, the identities of the people drafting the “college- and career-readiness standards” were unknown to the public. CCSSI eventually (in July) revealed the names of the 24 members of the “Standards Development Work Group” (designated as developing these standards) in response to complaints from parent groups and others about the lack of transparency. What did this Work Group look like? Focusing only on ELA, the make-up of the Work Group was quite astonishing: It included no English professors or high-school English teachers.

That right there seems kinda important don’t it?

The lead ELA writers were David Coleman and Susan Pimentel, neither of whom had experience teaching English either in K-12 or at the college level. Nor had either of them ever published serious work on K-12 curriculum and instruction. Neither had a reputation for scholarship or research; they were virtually unknown to the field of English language arts. But they had been chosen to transform ELA education in the US. Who recommended them and why, we still do not know.

Silly Professor….don’t you remember, these are all “state-led”; why all us dumb taxpayers recommended them back in 2008. By the way, I am certain Phil Bredesen MUST have been there and she has simply forgotten his input. David Coleman has since moved on to become president of the College Board, in order to rewrite the SAT college entrance exams. Apparently they have been measuring all the wrong college readiness stuff lo these many years and need to be changed to match our new Common Core “state” Standards too. What this means is that your “new” SAT score is absolutely meaningless compared to the “old” SAT scores. Don’t forget, this is the Bill Gates hit man that has zero experience teaching English.

As a condition of membership, all VC members had to agree to 10 conditions, among which were the following:

Ownership of the Common Core State Standards, including all drafts, copies, reviews, comments, and nonfinal versions (collectively, Common Core State Standards), shall reside solely and exclusively with the Council of Chief State School Officers (“CCSSO”) and the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (“NGA Center”).

I agree to maintain the deliberations, discussions, and work of the Validation Committee, including the content of any draft or final documents, on a strictly confidential basis and shall not disclose or communicate any information related to the same, including in summary form, except within the membership of the Validation Committee and to CCSSO and the NGA Center.

As can be seen in the second condition listed above, members of the VC could never, then or in the future, discuss whether or not the VC discussed the meaning of college readiness or had any recommendations to offer on the matter.

Gee, it seems like these “state-led” standards should belong to the people or the states, not copyrighted by a couple of corporations. Why did “we” give them the standards “we” asked for? Why did the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation grant millions of dollars to the CCSSO simultaneously?

“The deadline for producing a good draft of the college-readiness and grade-level ELA (and mathematics) standards was before January 19, 2010, the date the U.S. Department of Education had set for state applications to indicate a commitment to adopting the standards to qualify for Race to the Top grants.

But the draft sent to state departments of education in early January was so poorly written and content-deficient that CCSSI had to delay releasing a public comment draft until March. The language in the March version had been cleaned up somewhat, but the draft was not much better in organization or substance – the result of unqualified drafters working with undue haste and untouchable premises.

None of the public feedback to the March draft has ever been made available. The final version released in June 2010 contained most of the problems apparent in the first draft: lack of rigor (especially in the secondary standards), minimal content, lack of international benchmarking, lack of research support.

In February 2010, I and presumably all other members of the VC received a “letter of certification” from the CCSSI staff for signing off on Common Core’s standards (even though the public comment draft wasn’t released until March 2010 and the final version wasn’t released until June).”

Still think Common Core is “state-led”?  Both Stotsky and Milgram refused to sign off on these standards.

Milgram served as an expert on the Mathematics standards Validation Committee and was the only mathematician. Others involved in mathematics education were on the committee, but no other content expert on mathematics. Milgram had been involved in the then current mathematics standards for Texas public education. A presentation he made before the Texas legislature regarding his experience on the Common Core Validation Committee and the reality of the low expectations of the Common Core Math standards can be read here. Another big smoking gun for the mathematics side. Some choice excerpts follow:

 “As a result, there are a number of extremely serious failings in Core Standards that make it premature for any state with serious hopes for improving the quality of the mathematical education of their children to adopt them. This remains true in spite of the fact that more than 35 states have already adopted them.  For example, by the end of fifth grade the material being covered in arithmetic and algebra in Core Standards is more than a year behind the early grade expectations in most high achieving countries. By the end of seventh grade Core Standards are roughly two years behind.”

The Core Mathematics Standards are written to reflect very low expectations. More exactly, the explicitly stated objective is to prepare students not to have to take remedial mathematics courses at a typical community college.”

So much for “rigorous”….

Time to up the ante state leaders. We aren’t buying your story. Time to parade Phil Bredesen around and get him to explain how it all went down, maybe produce those reams of emails from constituents begging for us to be just like everyone else so our children can “compete in the global marketplace” (and get data mined without our consent). Maybe you could trot out Arne Duncan for another round telling us how it is all “state-led”. Or, you could start telling the truth.

A Brief Audit of Bill Gates’ Common Core Spending

Swept-under-the-carpet

 

by Eric Holcombe:

 

As you study the Common Core “state” Standards and their roots, who pushes them and who benefits either financially, ideologically (or both simultaneously) you will find many competing interests coming from “both sides” in the two party, Republican vs. Democrat facade. Thus, you will also find some strange bedfellows on both sides of not only the Common Core “state” Standards conspirators, but also those who are digging to expose the truth.

 

 

One Way the State Legislature Binds the State and Localities to the Feds

The last sentence of this bill, excluding the date of effect statement, shows how the States incorporate federal law, binding State and local officials to it, per State code.

(g) The policy shall comply with state and federal laws regarding the placements of students.

Bolded for emphasis.

Look at how many of the Republicans who claim to want less federal involvement have already signed on.

http://wapp.capitol.tn.gov/apps/BillInfo/Default.aspx?BillNumber=SB0020&ga=108

Why add the words “federal law” to a State bill, if you want to free yourself from the federal government?  There must be some money involved.  That usually makes principles dissolve quickly.