Taxpayer-Funded Tennessee School Board Association Lobbies State Legislature for More Money and Greater Control

NASHVILLE, Tennessee – The Tennessee School Board Association, funded through membership dues paid with tax dollars allocated for school systems, lobbies the Tennessee General Assembly on various issues many of which work against taxpayers’ interests.

Tennessee School Boards Association Deputy General Counsel, Ben Torres, talking about the Call to Action: Conquering the Hill for school board members to lobby state lawmakers and attend legislative committee meetings.

This week, the Tennessee School Board Association (TSBA) held their annual Day on the Hill with approximately 250 attendees primarily made up of school board members from the organization’s 141 member boards around the state, although superintendents are also permitted to attend. The registration fee was $100 per person, and a block of rooms were made available at the DoubleTree Nashville Downtown at a rate of $219 per night, plus tax.

The event, which started Monday evening with a program on this year’s proposed legislation and a reception, continued with Tuesday’s “Call to Action: Conquering the Hill,” during which attending school board members and superintendents broke out to meet with their legislators and attend legislative committee meetings.

The packet provided to attending school board members, in addition to general logistical information like an agenda, area map and a list of legislators, included more than 20 pages of materials detailing bills that TSBA supports or opposes, TSBA’s 2019 legislative agenda and an issue brief on each of the legislative agenda items.

The introduction to TSBA’s 2019 legislative agenda states, “TSBA firmly believes in the success of Tennessee’s public schools and the opportunities they have provided and continue to provide to children. The Association acknowledges the challenges that public schools face as well as the need for continued improvement, and its member boards of education are dedicated to reaching the goal of every child achieve his or her highest potential. We believe we can help accomplish this goal by focusing our legislative efforts on the following areas.”

The document goes on to list the 15 items on TSBA’s 2019 legislative agenda:

  • Local Control of Schools (through the local boards of education)
  • Publicly Funded Vouchers (opposes legislation or similar effort that would divert money)
  • Funding of School Nurse Positions (from 1 per 3,000 to 1 per 700 students)
  • Local Funds for Teacher Salaries (require local match to state dollars)
  • Teacher Salaries (funding for teachers by classroom, not district)
  • Fund Balance Interest (earned interest to be returned to fund balance account)
  • Use of ACT Suite of Assessments in Lieu of End-of-Course Exams
  • ACT National Career Readiness certificate (in lieu of 11th graders re-taking ACT or SAT)
  • Assessment Administration Time (limits assessment administration time by hours per grade level)
  • Amend Letter Grading of Tennessee Schools (remove mandate for A to F grades for schools)
  • Additional Funding for Security Officers (at least one per school)
  • Threat Assessment Teams (legislation to allow establishment of)
  • Military Exemption From the Age Requirement to Drive School Buses (from 25 years of age)
  • Tennessee Code Annotated Review (remove language and requirements no longer applicable)
  • Maintenance of Effort Notification (of local funding body to ensure receipt of all funds due)

Seven, or about half of TSBA’s legislative priorities relate to increased funding for schools, which would put a greater burden on taxpayers through tax increases or require cuts in other areas of government services.

The item that had the most detail provided on it was the TSBA’s opposition to school vouchers and the related Education Savings Accounts (ESAs).

The main thrust of TSBA’s opposition to vouchers and ESAs is that funds, currently earmarked for the public education system, could be used for private school education.

To that end, a “Publicly Funded Vouchers Sample Resolution” prepared by TSBA and provided to local school boards has been considered or passed by Houston County, Oak Ridge, Wilson County, Jackson-Madison County, Metro Nashville and Rutherford County, as previously reported by The Tennessee Star, despite less than stellar academic results.

And, the effort undermines recent polls at both the local and national level that show there is strong support for school choice.

Meanwhile, TSBA, funded by taxpayer dollars in the way of school board membership dues, lobbies to protect itself and ensure its monopoly on education.

In fact, Tennessee law requires that all school board members attend seven hours of training annually. Tennessee Code Annotated 49-2-202 mandates that all school board members be properly trained during their service on the board of education and that the State Board of Education will establish the minimum requirements for the training.

The Rules of the Tennessee Department of Education and State Board of Education, “Administrative Rules and Regulations” 0520-01-02-.11 state that the seven hours of annual training, as well as 14 hours of orientation in the first year of newly-elected board members, will be provided by the School Board Academy.

The Administrative Rules and Regulations go on to state that the “Tennessee School Boards Association (TSBA) shall develop and conduct the majority of the approved modules.”

In addition to the membership dues paid with taxpayer dollars through the local school systems, TSBA is a vendor to the State of Tennessee.

According to the Transparent Tennessee Search Checkbook, payments to TSBA for the past three fiscal years, which run from July 1 to June 30 each year:

  • 2017 – $376,078.04
  • 2018 – $192,017.98
  • 2019 – $145,683.67

While TSBA points out in their sample resolution opposing vouchers that voucher “proponents have spent millions of dollars,” the missing element to that statement is that those funds are private, whereas the TSBA uses public or taxpayer dollars to promote and continue their agenda and monopoly on the education system.

Laura Baigert is a senior reporter at The Tennessee Star.










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