Thursday, February 11, 2021

Why Education Savings Accounts are the great equalizer for school children | Opinion

Justin Owens
by Shaka Mitchell and Justin Owens,
Shaka Mitchell 
The Tennessee
- On Thursday, the Tennessee Supreme Court accepted the widely publicized Education Savings Accounts—or ESA—case. 

In 2019, the state legislature offered a lifeline to families in our worst-performing school districts. They passed the ESA program, which would allow parents to take a portion of the dollars we already spend on their child’s education and use those dollars to send their child to a school of their choice. Almost immediately, the city of Nashville and Shelby County sued the state to stop parents from utilizing this important program. 

... Unlike families with means, lower-income families can’t just pick up and move to a better school district, nor can they afford private school tuition to send their child to a school of their choice. They are completely stuck. We must do better. While lower courts sided with these local governments, we are optimistic that the Supreme Court will reverse those lower courts and allow the program to launch this fall. 

...The ESA program would be the great equalizer for these families. Regardless of their ZIP code or how much money they make, parents in Memphis and Nashville would finally have options. They could get their children into the school that best serves their needs by simply allowing the money to follow them to the school of their choice. 

 ... research shows that these local governments would actually save money under the ESA program. When a child leaves with an ESA, the public school district no longer has the expense of educating that child, but the program would still let the district keep a portion of the funding. (read more)

Shaka Mitchell is the Tennessee state director of American Federation for Children. Justin Owen is president & CEO of the Beacon Center of Tennessee.


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Tuesday, February 09, 2021

Anti-tax ballot measure returns to Nashville

Jim Roberts
Tennessee Lookout - An anti-tax group with opaque funding is taking another swing at completely overhauling how Metro sets its tax rate just a few months after its first charter amendment proposal was deemed illegal by a Nashville judge. 

The group 4GoodGovernment sent out mail pieces late last week seeking the approximately 32,000 signatures it would need to trigger a voter referendum on six proposed changes to the Metro charter. The group is led by attorney Jim Roberts, who has been at the center of political and professional controversy.

Roberts’ attempt at appealing last year’s 34% property tax increase and giving voters the ability to approve many city government bond issuances failed when Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle ruled in November that the referendum proposal was “facially unconstitutional.”

So, Roberts went back to the drawing board, drafting six changes to the charter amendment. Most notably, 4GoodGovernment wants to revert the property tax rate to its 2019 levels before the 34 percent increase. The tax cut would take effect in the upcoming fiscal year beginning June 30. 

The charter amendment proposal would also: (continue reading)

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New 2021 Nashville Taxpayers Protection Act Petitions are in the Mail!

by Rod Williams - Last year the effort led by local attorney Jim Robert to roll back the 34% tax increase got more than enough signatures to get on the ballot but a judge ruled it could be kept off the ballot because of some technical deficiencies in the language of the proposed charter amendment.  

Now, the proposed charter amendment has been redesigned to satisfy the Court's objections and the petitions drive starts again.  The last effort generated over 21,000 signatures, which was more signatures than needed.  This time, the bar is higher.  More than 50,000 signatures are needed.  All petitions must be returned by March 5th. 

In addition to rolling back the 34% tax increase, the proposal protects park lands and greenways from being given away to developers, holds property tax increases to 3% per year, abolishes life-time benefits for future former Council members, makes it easier to recall elected officials and some other desirable reforms.  You can read and download the petition at this link


To follow this effort on Facebook, follow this link.

To download the petition, to contribute to the cause, or to learn more visit 4 Good Government.Com.

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Sunday, February 07, 2021

New Education and Transportation Spending Front and Center in Capital Plan. Last year's 34% tax increase and refinancing of debt to fund increased capital spending

Mayor John Cooper Makes City’s Largest-Ever Education "Investment "
Despite declining enrollment, the plan proposes the most funded ever for schools by any Nashville mayor 

Metro press release, 2/5/2021 - Education and transportation take center stage in Mayor John Cooper’s capital spending plan (CSP), which includes Nashville’s largest-ever investment for schools and advances transportation improvements without additional tax increases. 

Two-thirds of the $474.6 million plan go to education and transportation needs. 

After Mayor Cooper’s first capital spending plan addressed only emergency projects due to acute fiscal constraints, this year’s CSP brings overdue investment in the needs of a growing city. As a result of revenue increases, budget savings and a recent debt refinancing, Nashville is now in position to invest in its future. 

“We are a growing city with growing needs,” Mayor Cooper said. “This plan helps us catch up on maintenance needs while prioritizing our students’ schools more than ever before. These critical investments in our city’s future are possible because we’re now financially stable as a city for the first time in years.” 

Metro Finance Director Kevin Crumbo added, “We have achieved financial stability despite daunting challenges.” A record $191 million for education - the most in Nashville’s history - will fund much-needed school construction, expansion and repairs across Davidson County. Included in this historic investment are funds to build the long-awaited new Hillwood High School in Bellevue, HVAC upgrades made even more critical by the pandemic and major funding toward two schools in Cane Ridge. 

The CSP also includes $122 million in transportation investments, delivering on the first phase of the Metro Transportation Plan. 

Mayor Cooper’s administration released the Metro Transportation Plan at the end of his first year in office, consistent with the mayor’s campaign commitment. In December 2020, Metro Council adopted the plan to bring greater transportation investment across the county. This CSP provides for transportation improvements without the sales tax increase proposed in previous plans. Mayor Cooper’s CSP includes other essential community projects, such as replacing Fire Station #2 and building a new police precinct in Southeast Nashville. The plan also commits funding to critical building maintenance, park lighting and repairs, new greenways, and fleet and radio upgrades for first responders. 

The plan also includes high-impact down payments on Nashville’s future, in the form of environmental sustainability, affordable housing and a first-of-its-kind North Nashville infrastructure fund to be allocated via participatory budgeting. Three New Schools $191 million for Metro Schools – the most funded by any Nashville mayor – includes $100 million for a long-anticipated, new high school in Bellevue. 

“The long-delayed high school is a project of huge importance to my constituents and families throughout Nashville,” said Metro Councilmember Dave Rosenberg. “No capital spending plan in our city’s history has provided this much for our schools, nor has a plan been so focused on education. I’m grateful to Mayor Cooper for his desire to invest in the public schools that serve every corner of Nashville.” 

The new high school will replace the current facility which is more than 60 years old and ranks among Metro Schools’ lowest for facility quality. The new high school in a community of 75,000 residents will serve a diverse student population from 34 of Nashville’s 35 Council districts. The new high school on the 274-acre former Hope Park Church site will serve 1,600 students in a three-story building, with technology-rich classrooms and a new sports complex. 

“I live in Bellevue. I teach at Bellevue. And all three of my children attend schools in Bellevue and will attend their local, zoned public high school - which will now also be in Bellevue,” said Eli Foster, a fifth-grade Blue Ribbon teacher at Bellevue Middle School. “The school is the center and hub of a community,” Foster added. “I can’t wait to see all my middle school students, and my own children, touring the halls of a new high school.” 

Cooper’s plan also includes $4.2 million investment toward phase one of a new Cane Ridge Middle School. A new, 600-student Cane Ridge Middle would relieve pressure at Antioch Middle. That school is operating at 121 percent capacity, with students squeezed into buildings and portables. The new Cane Ridge Middle will also be a future home to students from Eagle View and Cane Ridge elementary schools. The plan also includes $18.8 million for a 24-classroom expansion at Cane Ridge High School. Without it, Cane Ridge High School’s capacity – now at 104 percent – could balloon to 132 percent by 2026. 

Repairs and Upkeep at 45 Schools District-wide 
The average Metro Schools building is 50 years old. Some school heating and cooling systems have been patched up so many times, they’re now beyond repair and won’t be fixable if they break again. Cooper’s plan includes $67.8 million for maintenance and repairs in 45 schools across Nashville. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown, more than ever, the importance of HVAC upgrades. These investments by Metro Government allow MNPS to focus its federal stimulus funds on learning recovery to catch students up as a result of the pandemic. “These capital investments in our schools are ultimately investments in our students, families, staff, and communities,” said Dr. Adrienne Battle, Metro Schools director. 

Practical Transportation Investments in Nashville’s Neighborhoods 
The Metro Nashville Transportation Plan calls for 1,961 improvements across 300-plus neighborhoods – everything from safer pedestrian crossings to smarter traffic signals. The Metro Nashville Transportation Plan is also a platform to unlock state and federal funding to pay for up to 60% of its projects. Cooper’s CSP makes early strides in implementing the plan: $21 million to repair 31,500 feet of sidewalk and build more than 2,500 feet of new sidewalk $2 million to build an estimated 16 new bus shelters in 12 districts $30 million to pave more than 180 “lane miles” across the city $2.5 million for traffic calming projects in 24 neighborhoods $7.5 million for smart traffic management projects to shorten commutes on some of Nashville’s busiest roads The sidewalk, paving and traffic management improvements will also include life-saving improvements to some of Nashville’s most dangerous pedestrian crossings. 

“I’m pleased to see this administration investing in a comprehensive transportation plan,” said Metro Councilmember Freddie O’Connell. “Reducing pedestrian fatalities and offering safe, equitable access to all users of our public rights of way will take investment and execution.” 

A State of Good Repair – Maintaining and Upgrading City Essentials Mayor Cooper’s plan funds overdue repairs and upgrades to the buildings and equipment Nashville needs to run, including: 
  • Nearly $20 million to mitigate stormwater flooding in neighborhoods 
  • $25 million for the city’s fleet 
  • $15 million for essentials like aerial ladder and pump trucks to fight fires in high-rise structures and remote areas 
  • $10 million for other heavy fleet, like landscaping vehicles for Metro Parks 
  • $6.5 million for upgrades to the city’s emergency radio system. The Christmas Day bombing demonstrated the critical nature of this system. 
  • $8 million for heating and roofing repairs to aging city buildings 
  • More than $1 million for classroom flooring, sprinklers and other repairs at Head Start early education facilities 
  • $7.5 million to upgrade Metro Police technology, like automated fingerprint identification and crime lab tools 
Delivering Long-Awaited Community Investments 
  • Fire Station #2 - $14 million Fire Station #2 was built in 1974 and closed in 2019. Had the station been open on Christmas Day 2020, its 15-member crew would have been among the first to respond to the downtown Nashville blast. Bringing this crew back to a new Fire Station #2 will boost morale and give residents another safe haven if they’re fleeing domestic violence or need medical help. 
“There is always a lot of conversation and thought that comes into play to when deciding where we locate a fire station,” said Director Chief William Swann. 
“We know because of run volume, the growth and the potential growth in the downtown area it will be a great benefit to have station 2 back at home. This will also benefit Germantown And North Nashville residents.” 
  • Southeast Police Precinct - $15 million The new police precinct – the city’s ninth – will serve the Antioch community. Officers at South and Hermitage precincts, who now respond to the entire southeast area, will be able to better focus on their zones - which already total 160 square miles. “A new Southeast Precinct will greatly complement the police department’s mission to work closely and collaboratively with neighborhoods to address specific problems and concerns,” said police chief John Drake. 
Greener, More Livable Neighborhoods 
  • A record $17+ million will go to greenways and bikeways, including the Charlotte Corridor Rail & Trail greenway prioritized in Nashville’s Plan to Play strategy. 
“As an avid supporter of walking and biking, I am pleased that the proposed capital spending plan allocates over $17 million toward greenways, bikeways, and active transportation,” said Metro Councilmember Burkley Allen. “If we’ve learned anything from this pandemic, it’s that infrastructure that promotes healthy activity and connectivity is crucial to our quality of life.” 
  • Meanwhile, $2 million go toward finalizing a parks acquisition in Bell’s Bend, setting the stage for large matching philanthropic contributions. 
  • Five million dollars will finish a complete-streets project on Madison Station Boulevard. “I’m so grateful to see a spending plan focused on neighborhood priorities and quality of life,” said Metro Councilmember Nancy VanReece. 
  • “Madison Station Boulevard has been on the drawing board for nearly three decades and promised by two prior administrations. Mayor Cooper’s delivers on long-ago promised improvements.” 
  • This CSP also includes $3.4 million for the first phase of repairs to the Old Hickory Community Center and $1 million to restore historic Fort Negley. 
Innovation and Investment in Nashville’s Future: 
  • First-of-their-kind funds Affordable Housing - $2 million 
This CSP introduces infrastructure participation agreements as a new tool for bringing more affordable housing to Nashville. For years, Nashville has used participation agreements to help facilitate large office developments, such as Nashville Yards. With a $2 million investment, Nashville is now poised to use participation agreements to help construct needed infrastructure for affordable housing developments. Metro’s participation in building infrastructure will lower costs for affordable housing developers, thus spurring the creation of more units. 
  • Participatory Budgeting Pilot for North Nashville Infrastructure - $2 million 
As the Metro Council’s 37208 special committee examined, North Nashville is a historically underserved area in need of infrastructure investment. This plan includes a first-of-its-kind $2 million allocation for neighborhood infrastructure improvements in North Nashville. Funds will be allocated through piloting a participatory budgeting process, an approach new to Nashville. 
I’m excited about Mayor Cooper’s plan to inject $2 million dollars of capital investments. North Nashville has endured disinvestment for too long,” said Metro Councilmember Brandon Taylor. “As a candidate, I promised to address complaints about neglected infrastructure. The Mayor’s Participatory Budgeting program is an innovative way to listen, shift power to North Nashville residents and begin repairing historic harm.” 

Sustainability Innovation - $2 million 
  • The CSP includes a $1 million sustainability revolving fund to monitor and reduce building utility costs with savings re-invested into retrofits to reduce carbon emissions. An additional $1 million will go to an innovation fund for sustainability programs that include conversion of Metro streetlights to LED lighting.
Rod's Comment: While there is always things the city could spend money on, my view is that the city should pass an austerity budget that includes a roll back of last years 34% tax hike. Also, there is still in the works a plan to put a referendum on the ballot to amend the Charter which would have the effect of rolling back the recent tax hike. I hope the Council will take a hard look at the budget and look at ways to roll back some of these expenditures. 

Councilman Steve Glover's Comment on a Facebook Post - Here’s a simple question. If we add another precinct but we are still 200 officers short in our total police unit; then did we really solve anything? My answer is no. We need more police and fire to accommodate the massive growth we have seen in Nashville. Plus here we go again spending lots of money. The mayor says with no tax increase; I say for how long until the next 34% jump!

Michael Dioguardi's  Comment on Facebook - The police precinct is not only a waste, it will exacerbate the shortage of officers to fill newly created positions in the administration of the precinct. Nine is way too many precincts anyway and unjustified. The only reason it is being added is because the members of the Metro Council cannot respond to voters with facts about the issue: It will not increase response time, it will not increase the officers working that area of the city, it will not change anything for the better. It is placating a perception among voters which is not only wrong but will in fact have the opposite effect. It may not sound like much, but opening a precinct will probably result in the promotion of at least seven officers to the rank of sergeant when exiting sergeants are promoted to become lieutenants to fill the administration of a new precinct. That means the limited number of officers in the Patrol Division becomes that much smaller, payroll expenses increase with more “brass” (higher ranks=higher pay). Council members from that area no doubt campaigned on the issue. And as usual, the candidates who promise the most goodies wins. Unfortunately, those Council members will be long gone when the bond payments for that debt comes due and the city raises taxes again to prevent a Comptroller takeover.

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Bold Patriot Institute present The Revolution, Monday Feb. 8th. Drink beer and learn. Bold Patriot Brewery, 410 39th Ave. North

Beginning Monday, February 8th, we will start our journey through the History Channel special series called - "The Revolution." This is a great video presentation with excellent narration and reenactment that delivers a very exciting learning experience. Twenty great beers on tap plus wine, cider and seltzer. The series begins in Boston in 1765... 

Click here to view the trailer for Monday's class: The Revolution

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