TN Politics: No love for new school rules

With the start of the new school year, recent state laws passed by Republican lawmakers to give conservative parents more influence over local education programs have gone into effect.

This week’s conversation with policy analyst Otis Sanford is a brief survey of the impact of policies on teachers and students.

A law, which requires that all books in all classrooms and libraries be cataloged and published so that parents can ostensibly check material for sexually explicit content has inadvertently made it difficult for elementary school teachers to have reading material on hand in classrooms.

Another law that threatens school districts with funding if teachers raise discussions about systemic racism — a topic that largely white lawmakers have banned in this state — has led to only one complaint filed by parents in East Tennessee regarding a work of fiction.

During this time, Governor Bill Lee frequently championed private denominational and charter schools as a better alternative to public education in Tennessee. But his two signature schemes – to redirect public funding to private schools thanks to vouchers and dot the state with ideologically conservative charter schools led by a Christian college in Michigan – met with some resistance even from members of his own party.

The President of Hillsdale College his institution did a disservice saying in a speech attended by Governor Lee that “teachers are trained in the dumbest parts of the dumbest colleges in the country” and “you don’t have to be an expert to educate a child because basically n anyone can do it.”

While Governor Lee and Hillsdale President Larry Arnn have attacked public school education and the teachers themselves, the The Memphis Shelby County School District recently received a Level 5 rating for academic growth, a distinction Sanford says should be celebrated, despite lawmakers’ best efforts to undermine public education.

Martha K. Merrill