OPINION: A State Takeover of MNPS Will Hurt Local Students

Since the City of Nashville opened the doors to its first public school in 1855, the Metro Nashville Public School (MNPS) district has pioneered access to quality education for all children in Davidson County’s increasingly diverse community. Today, members of MNPS’s exhausted community expect a state-takeover of the school district. If the State of Tennessee does in fact take control of Davidson County’s schools, then Nashville’s youngest citizens would also become the most tragic victims of this transfer of power. A state take over would mean the end of Nashville’s prideful, locally governed educational community. Former school board member Will Pinkston believes that what used to be a “bipartisan and collaborative approach to education reform,” at the state level, has been wrecked by hyper-partisanship and “reckless disregard,” for public education.

A 2013 report by The Atlantic warns of the many consequences associated with a state-takeover of previously locally controlled schools across the country. In doing so, the article inadvertently warns Nashvillians of the egregious repercussions our community could face if the State of Tennessee assumes control of our local schools. According to the report, such an action could result in an over reliance on test scores, and allow people with no experience in education to gain leadership roles in administration. The author calls the track record of these rare takeovers “shaky,” and forecasts an all-around dismal outlook for areas undergoing this transition.

Even local studies of schools in the community confirm that state-takeovers typically yield disappointing results. As of 2018, every one of the schools taken over by the State of Tennessee “continue to struggle.” The empty promises made by the state about the schools’ projected improvement were later essentially retracted when the district’s founder admitted they were “too lofty.”

A state takeover of our local schools is clearly not what’s best for the 80,000 students of MNPS. According to Will Pinkston, the State of Tennessee itself has been an active contributor to some of the district’s major problems by imposing hostile laws with “destabilizing financial effects,” onto school systems’ budgets. Pinkston stated that under Governors Haslam and Lee, the state “has been determined to destroy our majority-minority school systems in Memphis and Nashville.” Ironically, that same state that self-identifies as the savior of MNPS has actively pursued legislation that would worsen Davidson County’s already-present school funding problems.

In the face of opposition from pro-teacher groups and the district’s interim superintendent Adrienne Battle, Governor Bill Lee signed his school voucher bill– which results in reduced funding for Davidson County schools–into law last week. Pinkston calls vouchers and charter schools “kissing cousins,” that divert an already limited supply of taxpayer resources away from public schools and into private schools. Governor Lee will funnel 125 million valuable taxpayer dollars away from public schools and into private schools over the next five years to support the state’s voucher program, and double funding for Tennessee’s charter schools this year.

Current school board member Christine Buggs also weighed in on the state’s troublesome relationship with MNPS. Buggs pointed out that MNPS and Shelby County schools will be the “only two districts affected by the voucher bill,” and calls the Governor’s decision to “eagerly” shift money away from public schools, “disheartening.” Buggs also made it clear that local school districts are not backing down and yielding to the state’s incompetence without a fight: “Shelby County schools and MNPS are in a joint lawsuit against the state to increase public education funding,” said Buggs.

If Tennessee takes over Nashville’s schools, MNPS’s funding and academic problems will be exacerbated and not rectified. National and local case studies alike prove how state-takeovers lead to continued struggle and yield increased focus on administrative roles and bureaucracy than on student achievement in-classroom progress. Although the road to remedying challenges facing MNPS is long, saving Nashville’s students begins with maintaining local control of our schools.

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