Clint Brewer on School Voucher Program: ‘The Status Quo Is Not Working in Our Largest Cities’

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Public affairs strategist and all-star panelist Clint Brewer joined The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – Wednesday morning on the newsmakers line.

During the second hour, Leahy and Brewer discussed the recent push back in the Tennessee school voucher programs proposed for Shelby and Davidson Counties. Brewer said that the status quo was no longer working and that both sides of the aisle need to urgently come together and find a solution.

Leahy: We’re talking with our good friend and all-star panelist Clint Brewer. Clint, you were going to add a thought on Mayor Cooper wearing the face mask with the flag of Kurdistan. Not the flag of Tennessee or the United States at the press conference yesterday.

Brewer: I certainly get your point. I was going to say the Kurds have traditionally been American allies and Nashville has a very unique role in Kurdish history. We’ve had Kurdish families here for the better part of 40 years. A lot of them own businesses. They are employers and upstanding members of the community. They were fighting Saddam Hussein long before most Americans knew who Saddam Hussein was.

Leahy: The counter to that is I hear there are problems with gangs in the Kurdish community here in Nashville.

Brewer: There have been in the past. I think you could say that about just about any group of young men in an urban environment.

Leahy: The Irish gangs have left Nashville. They were here a long time ago.

Brewer: They probably were. (Leahy chuckles) I get it. But at the same time, I think the Kurds hold a special place the hearts here.

Leahy: They certainly hold a special place in the heart of John Cooper and he was eager to show that to the entire world yesterday.

Brewer: True. True.

Leahy: The other news had to do with the voucher program. Governor Lee’s voucher program was challenged in court and a state judge ruled yesterday that it’s unconstitutional because it applies only to failing schools in Shelby County and Davidson County. What do you make of that Clint?

Brewer: I haven’t read the ruling. Here’s the thing. (Chuckles) The state of Tennessee has been passing laws for maybe 100 years that apply only to specific cities. Sometimes those laws stipulate which cities they apply to because the laws include population thresholds. So it will say something like a city with only 150,000 people or more.

So that’s essentially Memphis, Nashville, Knoxville, and Chattanooga. They’ve been doing it for a long time. And then sometimes laws are passed and legislators want to opt their cities or counties out of it. And that’s been aloud. I don’t know if this ruling will stand. I imagine the state will appeal it. It’s unfortunate but I think we need to be creative in how we think about public schools. Particularly in our larger cities where we have real problems.

Leahy: Yes. Because they’re basically a disaster. Let’s face it. Shelby County. Davidson County. Terrible schools. They did a study. More than 60% of the graduates of those high schools in those districts when they went to college needed remedial math.

That’s not exactly a stellar performance. The ruling here Clint, Davidson County Chancellor Anne C. Martin ruled that the act was in violation of the Home Rule Amendment in the Tennessee Constitution. I think you’re right. I think Governor Lee’s administration might appeal it.

My guess is that you’re also right that when this goes to the state Supreme Court they will rule it as unconstitutional. I think the ruling and the law was made more on politics. But we’ll see how that plays out. The whole thing has been kind of a political mess though if you want to be honest about it.

I mean, I support vouchers. There was a discussion going back to the very origins of it that when the governor first said we’re only going to apply this to failing schools in Shelby County and Davidson County. I thought that probably was a mistake. But that was the strategy they thought they had to implement to get it passed. They got it passed by barely. It was very controversial.

Then former Speaker Glen Casada held the House vote in session an extra 45 minutes while one representative changed their vote. It passed by one vote. What do you think of that in terms of what will ultimately happen in that arena assuming the state Supreme Court rules in favor of the governor? Will the voucher program be a success or not?

Brewer: I don’t know if this voucher program will. It sounds like it’s in the hands of the courts right now. Here’s the thing. And you have to give everyone involved credit for it. We have endlessly debated the value of charter schools and vouchers.

The bottom line is the status quo is not working in our largest cities. Let’s set aside all of the different mechanisms for addressing that. We just simply have to agree on both sides of the aisle that it’s just not working in Nashville and it’s not working in Memphis. In the Davidson and Shelby counties.

This resistance to change and resistance of attempts from the right side of the aisle to fix it just seems like protectionism of that status quo. Which is kind of reprehensible if you want to get right down to it. Look at the statistics you just rolled out.

I think the future is that sooner or later both sides are going to have to find some common ground and figure out a way to fix it. You could make the argument Michael that in Middle Tennessee one of the greatest drivers of economics and economic patterns is the failure of Metro Nashville public schools.

Look at what’s happened to the suburbs. The suburban schools are fantastic. I live in Wilson County and the school system is terrific. Williamson County, Rutherford County, and Sumner county. Those school systems are flourishing and people are being driven out of Davidson County because they don’t want their kids to go to public school there and perhaps private school is not an option.

I think that all of these fixes that are out there at some point somebody’s got to have to just say we’ve got to try something that’s not the status quo. I think that’s what the Lee administration was trying to do and I expect it will prevail in court eventually.

Leahy: Yes. It will prevail in court. The teacher unions though will continue to oppose this and paint it as (Wimpy voice) your taking money away from our kids. But the bottom line is that they are doing an awful job at educating kids on the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic.

I would probably add a little different view on that. I’m not that enamored by the Williamson County schools. I think their schools have been teaching left-wing propaganda in the civics arena for some time. And that the superior scores you see there are a reflection of the income of the parents. But that’s another issue and we can talk about that another day.

Brewer: That’s exactly right. The scores in Davidson and Shelby County are also a reflection of the fact that you have some incredibly challenging family situations and neighborhood situations where these kids are not in the best situation to learn.

If you get one meal a day or two meals a day and those come from school, what does your weekend look like? How do you show up on Monday morning ready to learn if food is an issue? It’s a huge challenge in our biggest cities of how to fix this. But we have to find a way to fix it. It’s not an option.

Leahy: One group that has no interest in my view, no interest in solving the problem is the nine-member Metro Nashville Board of Education because they just decided to say no to five new charter schools. They don’t want charter schools. They don’t want the competition. I don’t think any reason or any logic will have any influence on them because they are absolute left-wing liberal ideologues. But that’s just my view Clint.

Brewer: Look, when I took over The City Paper in 2006 so 14 years ago, (Laughs) the Metro Nashville school board was exactly the same. (Leahy laughs) It was a mess. I mean it was an absolute mess. They fought with each other. They fought with the director of schools.

But here’s the thing, I agree with you to a certain extent but some of those charter school companies don’t do themselves any favors. Some of them are organic and they start here at home and are funded by local people who truly have the resources and want to affect change. Some are national chains that come in and they don’t do a great job.

Leahy: I think I will disagree with you on that. (Brewer laughs) But we’ll talk about that next time you come back, Clint.

Brewer: Sounds good.

Listen to the second hour here:

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Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. to the Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.









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