T.C. Weber is the father of public school students in Nashville. He blogs as “Dad Gone Wild.” He is a strong advocate for public schools.
In this great post, he describes the apprehension and the excitement of the recent school board election, which pitted Stand for Children against public school parents in Nashville.
Stand for Children pumped $200,000 into the election in hopes of defeating the incumbent members who support public schools.
SFC had the money, but it didn’t have the votes. SFC got its tail kicked by the people of Nashville.
Or, as T.C. Weber says, the people of Nashville said to SFC, as only Southerners can, “Bless Your Heart.”
This summer, Nashville has been embroiled in a bitter school board race that lined up the charter school supporters against the incumbent board members who are skeptical of charters. Five seats on the MNPS school board were up for grabs, with incumbents – and ardent public school supporters – in four of them. But District 5 was up for grabs because incumbent Elissa Kim chose not to run again. Two main candidates quickly emerged, with Miranda Christy falling into the charter supporter camp and Christiane Buggs more closely aligned with the incumbents running for re-election. Adding fuel to the fire was national education reform advocacy group Stand For Children, who flooded the race with cash.
The race this summer was absolutely insane. Like you-can’t-make-this-stuff-up insane. You had SFC flooding people’s mailboxes daily with opposition fliers, some even arriving the day after the election. You had a challenger in one race who probably should have been more forthcoming about his questionable past. There was the apparent coordinating between Stand For Children and a well-respected non-profit organization, not to mention an email that showed charter school leaders working to get school board members elected who were sympathetic to their issues. The local teachers union mistakenly sent out mailers that gave the impression that Buggs was an incumbent. The most vocal of the incumbents, who was endorsed by the local paper, became the recipient of a hit piece by that same newspaper four days before the election – a piece that revealed no new information and left out the fact that several of its sources were on the opposition’s payroll. Luckily, the local alternative newspaper rose to the challenge and pointed out the omissions. Two days before the election, a parent, along with Tennessee Citizen Action filed a petition for an investigation into potential campaign finance violations by Stand For Children.
On the eve of the election, I was filled with trepidation, praying that SFC wouldn’t be able to buy more than two seats on the board. Then the craziest thing happened: the voters cast their votes, and they saw through all the distractions to send a loud and clear repudiation of SFC and their cohorts. Jill Speering won with over 60% of the vote. Amy Frogge won with over 60% of the vote. Christiane Buggs won with over 50% of the vote in a four-person race. These are not close margins. The only race that was close was Will Pinkston’s race. He won by 36 votes, but considering all that he faced in the week leading up to race, it was amazing he was even standing. SFC had only one victory in this school board race when Sharon Gentry won, though she was not a beneficiary of their financial generosity, having received only $6k that came with their endorsement. But her challenger, Janette Carter, still managed to amass 3,200 votes out of roughly 8,000, with many of those votes coming from the congregations of local AME churches. Not a good sign for Gentry.
The results are a clear reaffirmation of the issues public education advocates across the city have been working on for the last several years. What makes things even more special is that this wasn’t a victory by one small group of advocates in one district. No, this was a true grassroots collection of city-wide advocates focusing not just on their district races but on all races. Over the last several months, through social media, these separate individuals from different pockets of the city reached out to each other and banded together across the city for the cause of public education. No one had the luxury of drawing a paycheck from a foundation. The work on these winning campaigns was all done by volunteers.
Let Nashville stand as a national warning to corporate reform: Hands off our public schools! The public paid for them, the public pays for them, and you can’t take them away.
An informed public will not give away its public schools to corporate charter chains, entrepreneurs, and non-educators seeking fame and fortune.
As T.C. Weber put it:
Today is a good day. Not just for Nashville, but for everybody throughout the country who believes in public education. What has happened in Nashville is proof that the conversation about what is needed in public education is changing. People are recognizing that the policies of the reform crowd are not good for kids. We need to seize on this momentum to drive home policies that are good for kids, like equitable funding for our schools, increased daily recess time, decreased emphasis on testing, empowering teachers, and more. Reformers like to point to Nashville as a “model” for their success stories. This election now provides a model on how to fight back and win against corporate reform.
We need to remember, though, that these victories are hollow if we just celebrate the political wins and then don’t show up to put in the work in at our schools. Nobody believes that our schools are currently the best that they can be, nor do we deny that for years they have come up short for many children of color. By recognizing those facts and using the support we’ve created, we can finally address those shortcomings in a meaningful manner. It would be a great tragedy if we as citizens failed to grasp this opportunity.
On election day, I heard a story about a mom who watched the conversation unfold this summer and as a result, felt empowered enough to pull her child from a perceived high-performing school in order to enroll her in their neighborhood school. Another neighborhood leader was so inspired by the election results that she is planning to commit to recruiting young families to support their neighborhood school. We need more of those stories, and if we keep working together and remembering what’s important, we will hear them. It really feels like a new day is dawning. And Stand for Children… as they not-so-nicely say here in the South, bless your heart.