3rd Grade Retention Testimony 2023

The testimony below is from the Tennessee House of Representatives Education Committees in 2023.








Public School Policy Changes Due to New State Laws

There have been a lot of questions regarding numerous policy changes being made in our school districts right now. Many of these are due to changes in state law. To answer some of the questions I have been getting, I will have several posts coming, to explain each policy change and give you the full language of the new laws. I will also list the legislators who sponsored the bills in the Tennessee House and Senate, as well as which legislators voted in favor of the changes.


I am very humbled by the outpouring of support that continued through my fist term and into the campaign for a second term.

As the world changes, we must remain steadfast in our resolve to support students in our public schools and to reject attempts to divert our public tax dollars to private institutions. As always, I will continue working to keep our public tax dollars for our public schools.

The campaign links have been removed and blog posts will resume today.

Please reach out any time with comments or concerns.


Letter to my Neighbors 2020

Dear Neighbor Letter 2020

We get along quite nicely; thanks.

This is being reposted from a social media conversation, regarding the budget and the relationship between the school board and county commission:

What nobody seems to want to accept, is that the “budget” the BOE “passes” in April is not the actual, final budget. It is ONLY a REQUEST and is required of every office funded by the Knox County Commission. To be able to complete all necessary steps required by law, budget REQUESTS have to be submitted before data regarding available funds is complete. (Final numbers will be available in JULY.)

The process is not the nefarious BS the media desperately wants it to be. There are some political people (not politicians, btw), who are also desperate to control the narrative and THEY are stirring the idea that there is some kind of Cas Walker-esque fist-fight brewing between the BOE and Commission.

There is not.

We get along quite nicely.

The state will not have final budget numbers for us until JULY. It has nothing to do with anyone’s feet dragging. It has to do with following the processes that are in place.

In the meantime, state budget numbers have been updated twice since the last meeting, and the administration is looking to see where those funds will best be utilized.

Final numbers COULD even make the Mayor’s recent proposal unnecessary! If that were the case, but we accepted the Mayor’s funding proposal, we could end up being committed to spending money out of reserves unnecessarily.

The entities involved in budgeting ARE talking to each other. A LOT. The media often does not bother to find that out…

I actually had a meeting with finance and accounting Friday morning. They also invited Chris Caldwell from the Knox County finance department. Though it was not at all related to any of this funding, we DID have a discussion about how easy it now is to have a discussion between entities. (And Mr. Caldwell also hand delivered updated estimates for tax revenue to our KCS finance folks.)

The groups on both sides of the street are working to make our limited funding work.

If our communities want more for our students and our schools, people have to be willing to invest more money through increased taxes, by shortchanging other entities, by shopping locally, so that tax dollars stay in Tennessee, or some other way. We cannot support all of the programs community members demand, without additional funds.

Statement from ProjectGRAD Founders

April 17, 2018
As the original founders of the Project GRAD Knoxville partnership with Knox County Schools, we want to thank the Knox County School Board for delaying its vote on the FY18 budget and for its consideration of restoring full funding to KCS’s partnership with Project GRAD.
For some who may not know the history, when Project GRAD (Graduation Really Achieves Dreams) started in 2001, it was the first major public-private partnership with Knox County Schools. What led to this partnership was the fact that our inner-city schools, filled predominantly with low-income students, were failing miserably with graduation rates that were less than 50 percent. As a result, college-attendance and post-secondary success by these students were almost non-existent, and at least one of our 14 inner-city schools (Maynard Elementary) was slated to be closed by the State of Tennessee. At that time, our community came together to address the specific needs of Knox County’s most vulnerable children and to turn these dismal stats around.
The School System and Project GRAD Knoxville jointly agreed to measurable goals from the very beginning: 1) Move graduation rates at our inner-city schools from 50 percent to more than 80 percent; 2) Push our college (and other postsecondary education) going rate to more than 50 percent of those high school graduates; and 3) Continuously improve our post-secondary completion rate. Working together, we jointly met these measurable goals by 2012, and have met or exceeded the goals almost every year since.
Because of the success of the Project GRAD joint effort, the Great Schools Partnership was formed to work on other partnerships with the school system, such as Community Schools, the Parents-as-Teachers Birth-to-Kindergarten program, and Leaders for Readers. Again jointly, the partners agreed to a goal of becoming the Best School System in the South; and Project GRAD Knoxville agreed to become a permanently linked supporting organization of the Great Schools Partnership to make sure there is full programmatic and financial alignment.
Project GRAD has been funded as a public-private partnership from its beginning. The highest costs to implement Project GRAD were in the first 5 years. Private donors agreed to cover more than 75 percent of those up-front costs and the school system agreed to cover the majority of annual costs in subsequent continuing years. In recent years, Knox County School’s $1 million annual investment in Project GRAD has leveraged an additional $1.5 million each year in private and other funding— funding that would be at great risk if the school board chooses to end its partnership with Project GRAD. All-in-all in nearly 18 years, the School System’s $18 million in funding has leveraged over $32 million in private and other support for the Project Grad partnership.
Project GRAD has become a symbol of hope and opportunity in our community, as everyone could see through the massive grassroots’ turnout to the April 9th Knox County School Board Workshop of more than 1,000 citizens from all walks of life—students, graduates, teachers, principals, parents, clergy, and neighborhood, business, non-profit and government leaders. Just as importantly, current 9th graders at Fulton and Austin-East have already been promised and signed four-year scholarship contracts; have been promised on-campus summer academies at Pellissippi State, the University of Tennessee and the Tennessee College of Applied Technologies; and have been promised robust family, social service, funding, college, and career supports. To end this partnership abruptly without fulfilling those promises is unacceptable.
It is difficult to fathom that our school board would reject the advances of the past 18 years, and unilaterally tear down the partnership bridges that have been built to increase the success rates of our most under-privileged children, with nothing proposed of relevance to replace the current joint effort. This community has made promises that need to be fulfilled to these children. In addition, the school board’s decision will impact continued and future public-private partnerships of all kinds for many years to come. We, the undersigned below, strongly urge the school board to focus on these concerns and we appreciate the school board’s action to take the time to thoughtfully consider a better resolution.
Sincerely, Project GRAD’s founding partners
(Please see the following page for the names of all who have signed in support of this statement.)
2001 Knox County Schools’ Partners
• Sam Anderson, former KCS School Board representative
• Jerry Hodges, founding executive director of Project GRAD
• Montina Jones, former KCS Vine principal
• Marion Quinn, former KCS Austin-East principal
• Michael Reynolds, former KCS Fulton principal
• Dr. Sharon Roberts, former KCS elementary principal
2001 Community Partners
• Gloria Deathridge, current KCS School Board
• Steve Diggs
• Takisha Fitzgerald
• Rev. Joseph Smith
• LeRoy Thompson
• Pam Trainor
• Dr. John Turner
2001 Business/Foundation Partners
• Chrisi Haretos (Bollinger)
• Governor Bill Haslam, who served as Project GRAD chair until he took office as governor in 2010
• Rodney Lawler
• Larry Martin, former COO of First TN Financial Services
• Larry Mauldin
• Kelly Milam
• Lila Pfleger, Executive Director of Lucille S. Thompson Family Foundation
• Bob Talbott
• Laurens Tullock
2001 Partnering Organizations
• Terrence Carter
• Dr. Allen Edwards, former Pellissippi State president
• Dr. Robert Levy, former University of Tennessee executive
• Alvin Nance
• Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero and former director of Knoxville’s Promise – The Alliance of Youth
• Vaughn Smith

TN(still not)Ready

Once again, the Tennessee Department of Education has both failed to deliver a usable achievement test and refused to accept responsibility. The email from Commissioner McQueen to Directors of Schools makes it clear that they are blaming everything EXCEPT the department’s continued failures:

Sent: Monday, April 16, 2018 3:07 PM
Subject: RE: Update on Nextera


Let me first express my appreciation at your patience and flexibility with the issue this morning. The issue earlier today was not related to either volume of student testers or a server issue. It was also not a problem with the test delivery system – Nextera – any network or broadband performance, nor any district action. It was not a “crash.” Our understanding from Questar is the issue was related to a conflict between the Classroom Assessment Builder (CAB) and the test delivery system, which previously shared the same log-in system. This conflict immediately caused unacceptable log-in delays for some students. That issue has been resolved, and we feel good going into testing tomorrow.

More than 20,000 test sessions have been started and/or completed since the fix was applied at 10:30 a.m., and the platform worked as anticipated in maintaining students’ progress and allowing students to complete their test despite the log-in issues.

We understand many of you suspended testing today, and we apologize for the unanticipated scheduling changes this issue may have caused. Our hope is that all testing is completed within the three-week testing window and that subpart 1 for English language arts and U.S. history is completed this week. If you believe you will need additional time, please reach out to tned.assessment@tn.gov. However, timeliness is very important to ensuring that score reports and raw scores are delivered on the original timeline.

Finally, we know many of you have experienced long wait times with Questar customer service. We have escalated this issue with them.

Please continue to reach out. Thanks for your coordination with us today.



Candice McQueen, Ph.D. | Commissioner

Andrew Johnson Tower, 9th Floor 

710 James Robertson Parkway, Nashville, TN 37243

p: 615-741-5158





We haven’t been given any indication of what the Department of Education considers to be a “state-wide” issue, but this list of outages, compiled from Facebook posts and personal contacts, looks pretty far-reaching:

Lake County
Maryville City
Milan SSD

Austin East Dancers & Knoxville Police Department Dance Off


KCS Enrollment Zoning Changes

Though I have not yet seen this letter, Mike Donila reports:

“In the letter sent to middle school parents and staff, Interim Superintendent Buzz Thomas said the construction of a new Gibbs Middle School and Hardin Valley Middle School could affect as many as 11 of the district’s 14 existing middle schools.”



Dates for community meetings to get input prior to making these changes are listed below.  I hope to see you there!

  • Nov. 28 at Farragut Middle School (Hardin Valley Middle)
  • Dec. 6 at Gibbs Elementary School (Gibbs Middle)
  • Jan. 17 at Hardin Valley Elementary School (Hardin Valley Middle)
  • Jan. 24 at Holston Middle School (Gibbs Middle)

Meetings will also be held in the spring, after a zoning proposal has been formulated.

If you are unable to attend one of these meetings, please submit your ideas to:  rezoning@knoxschools.org.

TN Legislators Seek END to Adequate Funding for Public Schools


NOTE: This post is still in progress and is being published early to share the ridiculous things that are said in the committee meeting video at the bottom. 

The State Constitution of Tennessee has only been amended 27 times in 233 years. However, amending the State Constitution is exactly what Bill Dunn wants to do in his latest attempt to remove YOUR PUBLIC TAX DOLLARS from public schools.

Comparison between Dunn’s amendment and current Article XI, Section 12 of the Constitution of Tennessee:


A RESOLUTION to propose an amendment to Article XI, Section 12 of the Constitution of Tennessee, relative to education.

BE IT RESOLVED BY THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES OF THE ONE HUNDRED NINTH GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE STATE OF TENNESSEE, THE SENATE CONCURRING, that a majority of all the members of each house concurring, as shown by the yeas and nays entered on their journals, that it is proposed that Article XI, Section 12, of the Constitution of Tennessee be amended by deleting the section and substituting instead the following:

The State of Tennessee recognizes the inherent value of education and encourages its support. The General Assembly as the elected representatives of the people shall provide for the maintenance, support and eligibility standards of a system of free public schools in such manner as the General Assembly may determine.

The General Assembly may establish and support such postsecondary educational institutions, including public institutions of higher learning, as it determines.


Section 12.










The state of Tennessee recognizes the inherent value of education and encourages its support. The General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance, support and eligibility standards of a system of free public schools.

The General Assembly may establish and support such post-secondary educational institutions, including public institutions of higher learning, as it determines.

Notice who is being removed from the State Constitution: The People!

The missing phrase, “as the elected representatives of the people,” is a significant piece to remove. 

The purpose, as stated in their agenda is :Constitutional Amendments – Proposes an amendment to Article XI, Section 12 of the Constitution of Tennessee to affirm the general assembly’s sole discretion in the establishment of a system of public schools. “

In other words, if they fail to fund our public schools, and the court finds that they have failed to fund our public schools, it doesn’t matter – because it gives them “SOLE DISCRETION” and the ability to do whatever they want, however they want, and with no recourse for the people.

Replays of hearings on this bill are available below:

House Education Administration and Planning Subcommittee (Dunn begins at 59:00)

Senator Roy Herron explains how this amendment removes a child’s right to an adequate public education and compares it to removing one leg from a stool, which will surely cause the stool to fall.

*Note that they have not yet gotten an opinion from the Attorney General, regarding how this amendment could really impact us, regarding equity.
Also, be sure to listen to 1:29, where Dunn claims that Vanderbilt’s study proved that Pre-K causes students to do worse in school.
THEN, he says, “When you find kids who are struggling or who can’t read, and go back to the homes and you will find people who are strung out on drugs…”