Federal Government Says Child Poverty Rate is Down in Nashville, Withholds Millions from Schools

More on the continuing saga of Taking from the Poor…

Last week I wrote about Tennessee’s largest counties losing federal funding due to the government’s (mis)calculations identifying poverty decreases within the geographic boundaries of our largest school districts. Yes, you read that right – decreasing poverty in urban schools districts. Shelby County, Tennessee’s largest school district, will suffer a $5 million deficit in the coming school year and it seems that the funding is being redirected to the smaller, wealthier districts. 


In Nashville, the district has been on the budgeting battlefield preparing for the $4 million kick in the gut. As much as the deficit itself is a hard pill to swallow, the rationale behind the funding loss betrays logic.

The Metro Schools’ Federal Programs department has this to say:

“The poverty rate that drives our federal education budgets (such as Title I) are determined by the poverty rate for children 5-17 in Davidson County reported by the US Census.  To allocate funds to the State of TN and each of its districts for next fiscal year, the USED will use the US Census child poverty rate from 2015.  Our current Title I budget was based on the rate of 2014.  As determined by the US Census, Davidson County’s child poverty rate went down 13.18% in one year from their reported rate in 2014 to the 2015 rate.

In comparison, the national child poverty rate went down only 4.40%.”

The Heck You Say

Anyone living in Nashville for six minutes can see our growing homelessness (6th in the nation) and housing epidemic and say with total confidence that the federal government is just plain wrong.

As a matter of fact, just three months ago I sat in a day-long community needs presentation proving Nashville’s growing needs for the city’s most vulnerable (see Nashville’s Prosperity Rests on Backs of Unhoused, Over-Jailed, and Undereducated). Annually, the city’s social services department releases a community needs evaluation, collecting a year’s worth of service delivery data from governmental agencies and nonprofits. The nearly three-hundred-page tome doubles as an indictment on the city’s priorities and roadmap to absolution. Ultimately, it serves as proof of the colossal hole between what is reported and reality. 

What Could a $4 Million Loss Mean for Students?

While scrolling through Facebook last week, I came across a post from the principal of Screen Shot 2017-07-20 at 10.16.52 AMmy old high school. Dr. Sue Kessler, principal of Hunters Lane High School (go Warriors!), posted a message to parents and students reminding them that the Warrior Bookstore is stocked and ready — relieving their minds of any worry of being ill-prepared for the first day of school. Just writing it gives me chills.

How on earth is Dr. Kessler able to provide free school supplies to every Hunters Lane student?

“We are in year 9 of this practice. Our marketing 1 students run the bookstore as an “inventory” exercise. All students can get what they need during lunch when the bookstore is open. It’s a win-win that ensure everyone has what they need, and requires that students take responsibility for retrieving the supplies they need when they need them. So, if geography teacher says you need colored pencils for next class the student knows to pick them up rather than ask parents to get them. For kids who come from families without resources for school supplies it’s a great equalizer. Free for all Warriors, no judgement and proof of “need” required. We use Title 1 funds to stock the bookstore and for 1600 kids only costs about $8000 to ensure everyone has access to the school supplies they need.”

Yes, Title 1 funds.

The government designates these funds to schools with high numbers of students living in low-income situations. Students with limited means struggle to get even the most basic of supplies and, thankfully, we have leaders like Dr. Kessler who identify student need and creatively make the funding work for every student. I believe she will fight to continue the underappreciated service of stockpiling the school bookstore and offering supplies to all students free of charge. More chills.

And it appears Metro Schools is working to protect students from the nonsensical funding shortfall. I pray they are successful.

What the —-? Nashville Loses 50% of New Teachers in Three Years

I’m working hard to clean up my language. I’ve not tweeted, facebooked, or blogged an expletive in a full 48 hours. But the near-constant barrage of reports of meanness, stupidity, and just plain BAD warrants a few choice words don’t you think?

Don’t worry, I’m sticking to my moratorium on cursing even though the thought of losing so many new teachers every year makes me wanna scream “what the &%$@!”

I won’t bore you with a lot of words drenched in self-righteous platitudes – at least not in this post. Just throwing out some food for thought (with links to supporting articles).


  • We must also think in terms of quality teacher preparation programs and a robust support system within the district. Apparently, Dr. Joseph is working on the latter.

Who is Butter Emales? (But her emails…)


Redirecting Federal Dollars from Poor Districts and Giving to Wealthier Ones – REALLY?

As you know, a few years ago Memphis City Schools underwent major surgery as several suburban districts seceded from the large urban district to establish their own school systems. Now called Shelby County Schools, the district is still rather large post-secession and overwhelmingly comprised of schools filled with children from distressed circumstances.

No urban district is immune to problems, but the large secession makes Shelby County unique. The surrounding middle/upper-class communities made it clear they no longer wanted to be associated with the urban district and now it seems they are being rewarded. According to the Commercial Appeal, five surrounding school districts have discovered they are the beneficiaries of healthy monetary gifts from the federal government.

So the largely poor district loses federal $5 million in Title I funding—money meant for schools with a majority of low-income students—and meanwhile, the districts with significantly less impoverished students get the cash. Maybe I’m oversimplifying the scenario a touch, but the outcome doesn’t change. Large urban poor school district loses millions of dollars to wealthier school districts.

Incidentally, this leads me to Nashville, which is expected to lose $4 million in funding for schools with low-income students. This is a huge concern. As our city gets more prosperous, our school district becomes increasingly impoverished and these funds are given based on the income levels of residents in the district. The crazy thing is that people can’t afford housing here. It’s well-documented! We have a ridiculous amount of people moving around, month-to-month, trying to find affordable housing. No way we should be losing federal funding. I need a little help understanding this one.

Check out the Commercial Appeal article about Shelby County Schools in its entirety.

If you’re interested in how Nashville’s growth -”prosperity”- is happening at the speed of light and leaving scores of families in the dust (literally on the streets), check out the pieces below. Few articles, if any, talk about the negative impact on schools.

Nashville’s Prosperity Rests on Backs of Unhoused, Over-Jailed, and Undereducated

The Costs of Growth and Change (Series)

New Data: Nashville Region Still Growing By 100 People A Day

Cost of Living Rising in Nashville, Study Says


A Nashville Charter School Shares the Love With District Teachers #RelationshipGoals

Starting in the fall Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools will add coding to its middle school curriculum. Coding is the language of the digital world we all find ourselves, especially our youth, and now middle schoolers will be experts in what it takes to make computers and phones communicate, putting them at a great advantage.

In addition to stepping outside the traditional offerings of reading and math (and variations thereof), I appreciate the effort the district is making to curb the predictable fourth-grade leap. Historically, Metro Schools suffers a huge loss of middle to upper-class families at the end of fourth grade and another enrollment drop just before high school.

While coding alone will not keep the middle class from rolling out in search of high-performing magnets and private schools, it is a step in the right direction. It is also worth noting the urgency with which the district is implementing the classes, offering coding at all middle schools as opposed to a few at a time – as it’s known to do.

But, perhaps, the most thrilling part of this story is the collaboration between the district and a charter school. You read that right. In Nashville, where we have a few issues on the subject of charters, there is collaborative work happening and our children will benefit greatly (because they get it –it’s about the babies).

RePublic Charter Schools has been teaching coding classes for three years and recently started offering classes to the public free of charge. In a politically risky, but brilliant money-saving (even peace-making) move, the district is tapping into the expertise right in its front yard. More of this, please!

more please

This is a perfect illustration of why charters even exist. These schools are allowed to operate on the premise of offering innovation in exchange for greater accountability. They are simply a non-traditional option to move students toward greater success. The goals of traditional public schools and charter schools are the same, only the methods differ. So working together not only makes sense it’s expected.

I’m proud of RePublic and the powers at Metro Schools with the foresight to forge this collaboration. I’d love to believe this is beginning of a beautiful relationship, but I know better. In the meantime, I’ll bask in the glow of this shining example of how it should be. #RelationshipGoals

Check out the NPR story on RePublic and Metro Schools

10,000+ Nashville Charter School Families Get Official Eviction Notice

This is what happens when politics outranks people.

Screenshot 2017-06-30 at 9.25.37 AM

A resolution introduced by board member Mary Pierce enforcing the board’s role in advocating for every student (and family) failed in dramatic form this week. The breakdown of the vote on the measure to support ALL families was, unfortunately, not surprising — 4 voting yes, 3 abstaining, 1 refused to vote and 1 absent. But what shocks the system is the message it sends to the families on the other end of the failed motion. A message best explained in a Cee-Lo Green song “although there’s a pain in my chest, I still wish you the best with a F— you.”

There’s not much to add to this story besides petty commentary and that, quite frankly, does nothing for the parents now officially alienated from the school district. However, I do feel the need to amplify one tiny part of the school board’s own policy mandating the elected body to “advocate for the organization and all of the students it serves.” The failed motion means only one thing for these families, the school board has abdicated its responsibility to serve charter school children and families. Holla!

So, I urge parents to reach out to board members. Express appreciation to the members voting on your behalf and to those who didn’t vote for you respectfully remind them that you’re still part of the family. Like it or not.

“The resolution is not about whether or not our board philosophically supports charter schools — individual members have made positions clear on the board floor and on social media,” Pierce said. “Rather, this is about our service as board members as advocates for the entire district and all the students it serves.”

Please read every word of this resolution.

A resolution declaring the Board of Education’s intent to reaffirm our commitment to our Governing Policy Three: Board Job Description with a specific focus on number Eight: Advocate for the organization and all of the students it serves.

WHEREAS, Metro Nashville Public Schools currently serve students in all of the following: traditional zoned district schools for students in grades K-12, open enrollment district schools, pre-kindergarten programs, magnet schools, non-traditional academies, alternative schools, homeschool programs and public charter schools; and

WHEREAS, MNPS educates nearly 88,000 students who come from diverse cultural and socio-economic backgrounds, many with diverse learning styles*; and

WHEREAS, MNPS public charter schools, authorized by the MNPS Board of Education, serve almost 10,000 students; and

WHEREAS, the cultural and socio-economic diversity within MNPS public charter schools closely reflects that of the entire district**; and

WHEREAS, the Metropolitan Nashville Davidson County Board of Public Education is committed to providing every student a high-quality education that promotes social and emotional learning and strives for increasing academic achievement; and

WHEREAS these core beliefs are reiterated in the commitment in Governing Policy Three that this Board will “advocate for the organization and all of the students it serves;” and

WHEREAS, the Board of Education has been addressed on numerous occasions by parents and others with children enrolled in one of our 28 MNPS Board approved charter schools by way of letters and public comments that they do not feel supported by the totality of the board; and

WHEREAS, these same parents have asked that the Board of Education treat them and their schools with the same courtesy and respect extended to parents and educators in zoned schools, magnet schools, and all other types of schools authorized by the Board of Education; and

WHEREAS, this board has consistently adopted standards that promote collaboration, including the first Annenberg Standard, which states that “Traditional district and charter schools should work together to ensure a coordinated approach that serves all children”; and

WHEREAS, we recognize that in every type of school our organization offers or authorizes, there will be concerns that should be addressed by the Director of Schools and district staff, and RS-2017-3

WHEREAS, at times, advocacy for students and families with concerns might appear to conflict with advocacy for MNPS, it is possible to do so without disparaging the schools, the employees or MNPS, and

WHEREAS, all of our students, and their families, regardless of the schools they attend, deserve to be treated in a respectful, inclusive manner;

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, the Metro Nashville Board of Public Education:

  1. Recognizes that our MNPS public charter schools are part of the organization of MNPS and serve the same diverse populations as our other MNPS schools; and
  2. Commits to ensuring its schools remain safe and welcoming places for all students and their families regardless of the type of school they attend; and
  3. Commits to treating students, parents, staff and leaders of MNPS public charter schools with the same respect and civility extended to those in district run schools; and
  4. Commits to handling concerns, issues and sensitive information reported by families or staff from a district charter school in the same discreet, consistent and professional manner as those brought by families or staff from a district-run school; and
  5. Commits to high standards of personal accountability when giving public statements (social media posts, opinion editorials, statements on the board floor, etc.) to ensure the accuracy of information to the best of one’s ability; and
  6. Commits to leading as a productive, student-centered board focused on making every MNPS school excellent.

Adopted this 13th day of June 2017.


I’m Declaring My Own Independence From All the Noise. It’s Time to Focus on the Kids.

Y’all, I’ve been stuck in The Sunken Place. But with Fourth of July rapidly approaching, I’m taking the opportunity to climb out.

“Get Out” movie director Jordan Peele created a not-so-mythical mental condition called The Sunken Place, a weird space between being “woke” and physical incapacitation. Knowing better, but for one reason or another, unable to do better. Some may simply call this being Black or Brown in America in 2017.

In an effort to battle my way out of this mental incarceration, I’ve spent the entire month of June on an inspiration safari, my personal journey to freedom. Luckily, after a calendar filled with coffees and lunches with folks who are doing the work, and some quality time with my fellow education bloggers, I’m moving further from The Sunken Place and closer to my truth.

Here’s What Truth Looks Like

Operating in my truth means to build up this platform created specifically to inform and inspire, to lift up Nashville’s marginalized parents, to remind families that neither race nor situation should determine their child’s educational outcome.

Remembering my belief in the magic of an incredible education, the power of an engaged parent, and the importance of a community unwilling to allow even one of its most vulnerable to fail. Confidently understanding this is the trifecta that will bring those on the margins into the center.

We’ve tried the “trust me” relationship with education systems for 150 years. All we got for it was under-educated and under-prepared graduates who feed the social service sector and prisons.
Chris Stewart, education activist and blogger at Citizen Ed

But from The Sunken Place I see the sick political games being played. I witness those with little to lose arrange and rearrange the pieces and change the rules on the backs of poor children. Watch them feed parents a big pile of bullshit and then expect them to happily consume it.  I’ve even seen them humiliate parents who actually had the courage to refuse the bullshit—in a display reminiscent of a public lashing.

Over the years, I have tried to be a team player for all sides of the education debate. But, I learned quickly that in the politics of education, it was expected that parents are supposed to choose a side—either the status quo or education reform—anything but the children!
Gwen Samuel, CT parent activist and blogger

Recently, I joined a couple dozen education bloggers at a summit that provided the occasion to experience former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan speak passionately about this work. Noticeably, Duncan laced his speech with “kids” and “children” and “students”…oh yeah, that’s who this is for. With all the adult politics, you can easily forget. It was sorely needed inspiration for embattled education advocates in need of a refill.

The former secretary’s speech reminded me that nasty tete-a-tetes with school board members do nothing for children. I was reminded that on the ground, where real families are making decisions, is where the magic happens. It was a reminder not to engage with the intellectually dishonest, and instead spend that energy on saving children and building up families and communities.

Because of the countless experiences during my 30-day safari, I’m working my way out of The Sunken Place and regaining my footing. I will continue to insist all parents be afforded the opportunity to make choices from a menu of great options. And if that choice is a zoned school, well, hallelujah! But when zoned is not the choice, I will not accept the traditional patriarchal response where parents are admonished, or even punished. (See this Nashville Scene article.)

I ask that you please stop the disparaging remarks toward our families for our choice.
Nashville Charter School Parent Camiqueka Fuller to School Board

This year’s Independence Day takes on a new meaning—a unique kind of freedom from the political shackles we all find ourselves. From this point forward, I won’t be accepting anyone’s leftovers, BS, half-truths, and untruths.

And I’m calling on you to roll with me.

Screenshot 2017-06-30 at 2.51.13 PM

“We Believe Black People Must Seek That Education By Any Means Necessary.”

During the most recent Tennessee legislative session, the subject of vouchers was indeed the star of the show. While the existence and proliferation of charter schools is a hot topic around here, the discourse on using public dollars for private schools (vouchers) is transitioning from slow burn to a full-blown fire. Even though several bills were introduced during the 2017 session, only one passed, but there’s more to come in 2018. Here’s my take on the 2017 session.

What’s Up With Vouchers?

The argument for and against vouchers is very similar to that of charters. Supporters believe vouchers provide additional choices to families, particularly to the traditionally underserved. Meanwhile, the opposition believes the motivation behind vouchers is an agent of privatization and, therefore, will administer the final blow to public education. Sound familiar?

In this The 74 article, three great minds leading the national education debate joined forces to state the case for vouchers for Black children. Whether you love ’em or loathe ’em, this case for vouchers cannot be easily dismissed. You be the judge.

Check out Howard Fuller, Marquette University professor, Derrell Bradford of EVP of 50CAN, and Chris Stewart, CEO of Wayfinder Foundation:

Critics of school choice programs find the politics of empowering Black families with the wider range of options available to wealthier families difficult, but we don’t. Some may find it radical to believe that we should use every school available to ensure our children are educated. We don’t. Some may believe that the quest for “choice” and the historic role of private schools in education is a moral and historical inconvenience. Indeed, the opposite is true: It’s a necessity. Some believe vouchers and other forms of parent choice are a threat to democracy. The real threat to democracy is an uneducated populace. We believe Black people must seek that education by any means necessary.