Dear SCS Board Members,

Firstly, we want to recognize that the 2020-21 school year was unprecedented and we appreciate all of the hard work that the SCS Board and administration have done to adapt to the challenges of the pandemic to support our students, teachers, and schools. As the SCS Board considers how to spend ESSER dollars, we hope to be partners with you in continuing our conversations and collaboration on how we can make targeted investments in the most meaningful ways for the future prosperity of Shelby County.

We are a group of community members from MICAH, Stand for Children, ALLMemphis, Whole Child Strategies, United Parents and Students, The Memphis Lift, 90ONE (Organizing Network for Equity), and Bridge BuildersChange. We all deeply care about education equity. Over the past year, our organizations have been researching what is happening in specific areas of focus and define opportunities for improving educational opportunities for students in Shelby County. We have talked with and received feedback from SCS administrators, Board Members, County Commissioners, the County Mayor, parents, students, and community stakeholders.

As recent test data has confirmed, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated inequities in Shelby County and highlighted the urgent education investment needs for our families and communities. With continuing learning loss and hardships from this past year, we know that funding our students first is more important than ever this budget cycle. That’s why during the recent budget cycle we advocated for increased funds for education and youth with campaigns for the Youth Education Success (YES) Fund and the Moral Budget. We have yet to convince our city and county governments of the increased need for investing in K-12 education success, but we pledge to keep working towards this goal in addition to state BEP advocacy.

While we were not yet successful with additional local funding, we continue to believe that the investments we recommend can have a substantial impact. With a focus on critical milestones of childhood development, our organizations have developed this list of evidence-based recommendations with proven results that will develop opportunities for increasing support and success for all students. Some of these will not be new to many of you, as we have tried to be consistent in identifying worthy solutions and to be as targeted as possible.

As SCS considers investments that the district wants to make using the opportunity from the increased ESSERdollars, we hope that you will review these priorities. We believe that all of the recommendations below align directly with your existing budget goals, SCS Destination 2025, and the Reimagining 901 plan. We look forward to working with you to ensure that SCS and its partners can deliver impactful funding with fidelity.

Improve Early Literacy Instruction and Support

Full-Time Literacy Coaches

Only one in five students in Memphis read on grade level, approximately three in four SCS third-graders are reading below grade level. Currently, there are only part-time literacy laureates in schools, which means these individuals cannot commit their full time to the rigorous needs of effective coaching. In our partnership with Dr.Nell Duke who supports us in developing early literacy policy and practice recommendations, she has emphasized the research that says literacy coaches could provide a tremendous benefit to teachers and students. Research shows the more time teachers spend directly with full-time coaches creates positive change in rapport, practice, and student achievement outcomes. Hiring dedicated full-time literacy coaches across all elementary schools would make a sustained impact by allowing more students to meet the 3rd Grade Commitment, improving Memphis literacy rates, and increasing community economic opportunities.

Multi-Tiered System of SupportsIn addition to full-time literacy coaches, we’ve also come across research from Dr. Carol Connor that is being utilized through tools from Learning Ovations by partners in other cities (such as Read Charlotte in NC). We found an opportunity that could lay out a continuum of support from school to community to home. With their short, targeted assessments, focus on indicating the needs for students in adult-managed and child-managed code and content, and clear reports, we have felt like this is a foundation of support worth exploring. We believe that the Learning Ovations A2i tool is something that SCS should explore for providing support to teachers and assistants in classrooms (quality research-based screener, grouping, individualized instruction recommendations) and that their community literacy support system could extend understanding and support for students from the school into the community. Stand for Children and Literacy Mid-South are currently leading a pilot program of Learning Ovationtools in our community with Reading Checkup and A2i After School in several of Literacy Mid-South’sOut-of-School Time network partners.

Response to Instruction and Intervention (RTI²) Curriculum and Staff

RTI² is state-mandated for public schools, but funds to implement the law are scarce. If teachers receive evidence-backed RTI² curriculum to utilize during their intervention time, data shows improved student proficiency and growth. In the highest needs schools, it is common for 80% or more of students to be in Tier III, meaning they are one, two, or more grades behind. Providing fiscal resources for RTI² would further address this overwhelming gap by enabling schools to scale up their RTI² capacity and programming to best meet the diverse needs of students in Shelby County schools. We recommend identifying research-based, data-driven intervention programming, such as ALLMemphis (Access Language & Literacy), to utilize in schools with students who have the greatest need. Local programs like ALLMemphis provide a high-quality curriculum while also investing in teacher capacity through intensive coaching, mentorship, and training on the science of reading and multi-sensory phonics instructional methods.

Increasing Mental Health Resources, Social Work, and Nurses

Hiring Nurses and Social Workers Across All SchoolsShelby County’s average ratio is 414 students to one social worker, compared to the recommended 250 to one(School Social Work of America). Shelby County’s average ratio is 1,207 students to one nurse compared to the recommended ratio of 750 to one (American Nurses Association). However, with the chronic health conditions existing in Memphis – such as diabetes, obesity, and high asthma rates – one nurse per school is recommended to have the most impact. Increasing accessibility to nurses addresses community health issues, reduces chronic absenteeism, and helps children be fully present to learn. Both locally and in the Tennessee state legislature, there is bipartisan support for additional nurses in schools as well as social workers and other support staff. The ongoing cost of these additional staff is what has prohibited reducing the ratios. As a result, there are concerted efforts to develop plans that would increase services for both the health and mental health of students in a cost-efficient way. Strategies include using telehealth services as well as more strategic coordination between school-based health clinics and federally qualified health centers(FQHC’s). We all know that our students need improved access to health and mental services, and we all need to work together to find these resources for students.

Trauma Responsive Reset Rooms

As SCS continues to work toward becoming a trauma-responsive district, we recognize the importance of the existing 30 SCS schools that have reset rooms currently, considering that the number of suspensions declined to15% of the student population from the 19% in the previous year. Considering the high rates of Adverse ChildhoodExperiences in Shelby County, having an alternative to in-school suspension is crucial to providing spaces for intentional de-escalation that doesn’t penalize students but rather, allows them to meaningfully reflect, develop coping skills, and practice social-emotional learning. Full implementation of reset rooms would not only increase outcomes in education but prioritize student well-being and mental health to prepare them with lifelong skills to be productive citizens

Promote High School, College, and Career Success

Freshman Success Teams (Freshman Success Network)

Stand for Children launched the Center for High School Success (CHSS) to support our work in developing supports for high schools around increasing the number of students who finish the 9th-grade on-track to graduate. This work leveraged and expanded the research and high school support work from the Network for College Success(NCS) at the University of Chicago. Their research showed that 9th graders on-track to graduate are 3-4 times more likely to graduate than off-track peers. We hope that SCS would consider requiring a summer 9th-grade bridge program to support the transition of students in this make-or-break year for their graduation success.

Currently, there are 20 high schools in Shelby County, including both traditional schools and charter schools, with dedicated freshman success coaches. Currently, all of the SCS iZone and Continuous Improvement Zone (former one schools) high schools are a part of the network. Our CHSS coaches support the Freshman Success Teams at each school in their efforts to increase the number of freshmen on track to graduate by focusing on continuous improvement, intentional on-track/off-track data tracking for 9th graders, and developing effective teams in schools. At the current high schools with CHSS coaches, data shows that on-track graduation rates consistently surpassed the district average with an overall increase of 16 percentage points for the ninth-grade on-track rate. We appreciate the SCS administration and Board approving the continuation of this work and the expansion to10th grade to address the impact of COVID on last year’s 9th graders.

College and Career Coaches

Counseling students on their postsecondary journey is complex, multi-faced, and requires much more of a time investment than one counselor per school. Many students look to their schools for the resources they need to make a postsecondary plan. These students deserve counselors who can advise them on their opportunities and ensure they are set up for success as they enter college or the workforce. Hiring additional college and career coaches to support post-secondary planning will enable more students to pursue college degrees or career training.

English Language Learners and Students with Disabilities 

As a partner of the Solidarity Project (90ONE – Organizing Network for Equity, The Memphis Lift, and Tennessee can), we support their recent advocacy to prioritize the needs of students with disabilities and English as a Second Language (ESL) students and their families as the district returns to in-person schooling through providing specific tiered classroom supports. For students with disabilities, their recommendations include smaller caseloads per education teacher and hiring additional licensed interventionists. For ESL students, their recommendations include increasing wraparound services and hiring additional bilingual support staff and ESL teachers.

My Child’s Learning Path

As a partner of the Memphis Lift, we support their recent advocacy and plan for SCS to implement an individualized student learning plan called My Child’s Learning Path. To increase transparency between parents, teachers, and schools, we believe this comprehensive tool would be invaluable to facilitate meaningful communication and understanding. With the ability to review a student’s attendance, reading, and math skills instead of just receiving grades or test results, having My Child’s Learning Path would be a significant step toward deepening parent engagement and accessibility.

Safe and Supportive Schools

As a partner with Bridge Builders Change, we support the youth-led advocacy towards removing law enforcement from schools and reallocating funds to increasing mental health resources and professionals (ie counselors, social workers, and behavioral specialists) available to students and decreasing the likelihood that young people will become entangled in the criminal justice system by ending the MOU between SCS and the Shelby County Sheriff’sOffice to provide officers in our schools. These commitments to safe and supportive schools prioritize the mental health of our young people while breaking the school-to-prison pipeline.

Mental health is a huge factor in determining outcomes for academic and occupational success. In the US, there are 14 million students in schools with police officers but no counselors, nurses, psychologists, or social workers. Shelby County, only 279 professional counselors are serving 100,000 students.

ESSER Dollars Process

We believe that SCS should work hard to ensure the community is notified, educated, and engaged around how the ESSER dollars will be spent. Particularly in this continued uncertain time and stress with a global pandemic, we have an opportunity to emphasize the importance of public transparency and communication. Planning and spending of ESSER Dollars and American Rescue Act Plan funds, along with any subsequent COVID relief dollars, provides another opportunity for engagement with the community. This funding transparency is vital because intentional community participation and feedback are required under the ESSER Dollars and American Rescue ActPlan.

Our coalition of advocates meets monthly to move forward issues that will support the future success of our students and educational equity. We appreciate the opportunity to engage with the SCS Board and administration. We are available to provide further information and receive questions and comments.

Thank you for your ongoing leadership and partnership, MICAH Education Task Force, Stand for Children – Tennessee, ALLMemphis, Whole Child Strategies, UnitedParents and Students, The Memphis LIFT, Bridge Builders Change: CNC Cohort, 90ONE

Dear Commissioner Schwinn, 

 Thank you for the opportunity to offer public comment regarding the current draft rule proposed by the Tennessee Department of Education as it relates to the implementation of Section 51 of Chapter 493 of the Tennessee Public Acts of 2021. 

We write to you as a collective of educators, parents, scholars, and community members who are deeply committed to schools that value the array of diverse students, teachers, and communities in the state of Tennessee. We believe that current inequitable systems that routinely disadvantage individuals based on race, gender, class, and other salient identities must be confronted and challenged in our schools. 

We are concerned about the harmful effects of this current legislation, particularly practices and policies that will overwhelmingly erase the experiences of communities of color that have a unique and relevant history to the United States. 

As it stands, the current draft rule proposes significant financial penalties for school districts. Additionally, the draft rule has unclear investigative and enforcement processes that have alarming potential to displace teachers of color and hinder teacher abilities to introduce students to important academic concepts (reflected in state standards) in meaningful ways that encourage critical thinking skills. 

Presently, students are emerging from a year of online learning and recovering from the social and emotional effects of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the apparent realities of Black lives lost to state-sanctioned violence this past year. This current climate requires us to support our students in ways that affirm their lives, histories, and experiences. 

We ask you to consider the following recommendations as alternatives to the current proposal so that our Tennessee schools are not subjected to penalties that will further impact the funding and resources available to our most vulnerable schools. Below, we have included recommendations that could achieve a more equitable and fair process for teachers. 

We have also drafted these recommendations with historical knowledge in mind as we consider how laws and policies like that of Section 51 of Chapter 493 have had lasting harmful effects when implemented without community oversight and perspectives.


1. 0520-xx-xx-.02 DEFINITIONS

Original text (3) “Curriculum and instructional program” means a set of core instructional materials including activities and textbooks designed to help students reach the learning outcomes established in state academic standards. 

  • Recommendation: We ask that “curriculum and instructional program” materials include learning materials approved and/or recommended by content professional organizations such as the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), and National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS). 

Original text (5) “Department review team” means a committee of Department employees appointed by the Commissioner to review and investigate, as necessary, appeals filed with the Department pursuant to these Rules with knowledge and expertise regarding curriculum, instructional standards, and school and LEA operations and administration. 

  • Recommendation: We ask that the “Department review team” appointed by the Commissioner to review and investigate all appeals filed includes at least (2) parents from the classroom of the teacher whom the complaint is filed against, educational stakeholders who have expertise regarding curriculum, instructional standards and experience/background in areas of belonging and inclusion for all students. In addition, we ask that the “Department review team” committee reflect diverse educational stakeholders (not limited to parents, community, leaders, and students) from across each of the three Grand Divisions of Tennessee (West, Middle, and East Tennessee). 

Original text (6) “Impartial” means free from favor or bias toward one (1) viewpoint over another. 

  • Recommendation: We ask that the “Department review team” appointed by the Commissioner consider that “impartiality” suggests dishonest and untruthful teaching of history. With this in mind, we suggest that the department review team use research-informed definitions for terms like “impartiality,” “bias”  and “oppression” when developing review materials for potential complaints, in order to ensure a factual understanding. 

Original text (13) “State funds” means Basic Education Program funds. 

  • Recommendation: Given the section on early resolution of complaints, as well as appeals to the department, it seems that LEAs and public charters should be able to resolve issues without having to face infractions such as having funding withheld. Historically, withholding funding (as was the case with the No Child Left Behind Act) has not served as an impetus for schools to follow certain policies. 

We ask the Commissioner to consider an alternative first response to withholding state funds from schools which will ultimately have a negative impact on student learning and access to high quality instruction, teachers, and resources. 

Original text (14) “Supplemental instructional materials” means materials used in conjunction with the core instructional materials of a course. Supplemental instructional materials extend and support instruction and include, but are not limited to, books, periodicals, visual aids, video, sound recordings, computer software, or other digital content.

  • Recommendation: We recommend that “supplemental instructional materials” are allowed to extend and support teacher instruction and student learning. Further, we recommend that “supplemental instructional materials” are reviewed and approved by respective school leadership teams to minimize the amount of potential teachers in violation of the prohibited concepts.  

2. 0520-xx-xx-.03 PROHIBITED CONCEPTS

Original text: (1) The following concepts are prohibited concepts that shall not be included or promoted in a course of instruction, curriculum, instructional program, or in supplemental instructional materials: 

f. An individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or another form of psychological distress solely because of the individual’s race or sex; 

  • Recommendation: We recommend that the “Department review team” consider the realities that all teaching has the potential for affective impact — one cannot control nor influence student response to any curricular content, whether perceived as controversial or not.  Learning theory and student development research supports this. We recommend that this language and concept is reconsidered to include all groups that might experience discomfort in the classroom and/or psychological distress due to instruction. If not, it should be omitted altogether. 


From our review, this section lacks a great deal of clarity and guidance for educational leaders, instructional coaches, and teachers. 

Recommendation: Section .04 (b) references a complaint form, a form for which an exemplar has not been provided herein for public comment. The contents of this form will represent a significant portion of the reporting and investigative process, and would provide districts with additional guardrails with which to guide staff and district leaders. Its omission here will lead to continued confusion at the district level. We urge the Department to 1) ensure a complete list of the prohibited concepts and relevant definitions be included on the form and 2) incorporate feedback from LEAs, public charter schools, and other stakeholders on the contents of the complaint form prior to implementation of the finalized rule.

Original text: (1) Each LEA or public charter school shall:

c. Prohibit retaliation for filing a complaint or participating in an investigation;

Recommendation: We recommend that the Department outline protections from retaliation for appellants in this section. 

d. Obtain written consent from a parent prior to the participation of a minor student in the investigative process, including consent to be interviewed; 

Recommendation: We ask that the Department consider dismissal of a filed complaint if more than two student testimonies/interviews are unable to be obtained and cannot serve as evidence in the filed complaint. 


Original text: LEAs are best positioned to choose which textbooks and instructional materials meet the needs of their students, educators, and community. Pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 49-6-2207, LEAs are required to utilize local textbook and instructional materials adoption committees to review textbooks proposed for district wide adoption by the school district from the list of textbooks and instructional materials adopted by the Textbook and Instructional Materials Quality Commission and approved by the Tennessee State Board of Education. Local review committees must be set up by grade and subject matter fields and composed of teachers, or supervisors and teachers, and parents with children enrolled in the LEA at the time of appointment to a committee. The local board of education may also appoint experts in the grade level or subject matter field for which textbooks and instructional materials are to be reviewed. General complaints about the subject matter or age appropriateness of textbooks and instructional materials that do not allege that prohibited concepts are being or have been included or promoted in a course of instruction, curriculum, instructional program, or in supplemental instructional materials of an LEA or public charter school, must be filed with the LEA or public charter school pursuant to the LEA or public charter school’s locally adopted policy for addressing such complaints. 

Recommendation: We urge the Department to provide a universal review guide and rubric to LEAs, public charter schools, and the local review committees they are granted authority to appoint in order to drive consistency, uniformity, and promote fairness in this process across the state. In the absence of additional direction and clarity from the Department, these local determinations will be left open to unclear interpretation and deemed arbitrary.


Original text: (1) LEAs and public charter schools are encouraged to work collaboratively with parents, teachers, and other employees to resolve concerns and complaints as quickly as possible. At any point after a complaint has been filed, but before a final written determination has been issued by the LEA or public charter school, the LEA or public charter school, the complainant, or the individual alleged to have included or promoted the prohibited concept may propose early resolution of the allegations through a resolution agreement. 

Recommendation: We urge the Department to allow autonomy of school leaders/principals, and teachers to determine a collaborative approach in their respective schools to reach early resolution before a complaint is filed and submitted. We request that this is acceptable without a required written resolution agreement as outlined in (2) of Early Resolution of Complaints. 

As a collective, we are ultimately invested in Tennessee schools meeting the needs of diverse students and families without the erasure of entire histories of communities and historical truths that may be deemed uncomfortable. The measures advanced by Section 51 of Public Chapter 493 and this accompanying rule have the potential to foster negative academic outcomes, especially for those students whose histories and realities are made invisible by these proposed concepts.  Further, these measures eradicate a welcoming and affirming environment for students of color while also limiting access, civic participation and successful academic outcomes for all students. 

We believe that our students and families deserve the opportunity to receive a full exploratory educational experience and exposure to a complete history that allows them to discover their own perspectives and prepares them to engage in a diverse and global society. 

However, with the recommendations shared above, we hope that the Department will not only consider but incorporate our suggestions in order to make this process fair, transparent and equitable for all. 

The following parents, educational advocates, education scholars and community members listed have endorsed these recommendations (affiliations are listed for identification purposes only) and have professional and personal ties to education in the state of Tennessee: 

Dr. Courtney Mauldin, Assistant Professor of Teaching and Leadership, Syracuse University 

Cardell Orrin, Executive Director, Stand for Children Tennessee

Dr. Erika Bullock, Professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Tamera Malone, Tennessee Educator

Christian Jones, Shelby County High School Student  

Lamar Foster, Graduate Student, Tennessee Resident

Tiffany N. Day, Equity Advocate, Parent of Shelby County High School Parent 

Dr. Cierra Presberry, Curriculum Development Specialist, Michigan State University 

Dr. Marcelle Haddix, Professor, Syracuse University 

Natalie J. McKinney, Whole Child Strategies

Dr. ReAnna S. Roby, Postdoctoral Scholar, Vanderbilt University

Rev. Cheryl J. Beard, Non-Profit Executive & Youth Advocate

Felicia N. Gunter, Parent of Shelby County K-12 Students

Michael Russom, Chief of Staff, Communities In Schools of Memphis

Rev. Althea Greene, Shelby County Schools Board Member

Cherisse Scott, CEO, SisterReach

Reginald Davis, Director of Beyond the Classroom, Seeding Success

Susanne Jackson, Education Advocate

Tomeka Hart, Former Shelby County Schools Board Member

Amber Hamilton, Executive Director, Memphis Music Initiative

Tim Green, The Dividend

Dr. Beverly Tsacoyianis, Education Advocate

Chelsea Glass, Co-Chair, Collierville Community Justice

The Moral Budget Coalition was formed under the belief that a budget is a moral document that should reflect our values and priorities and demonstrates a desire to progress towards what Dr. King described as the beloved community. In May, our coalition released a bold plan to pass a budget that is truly representative of the needs and priorities of our local community by maintaining the tax rate and generating over $140 million in additional revenue to fund needed initiatives around affordable housing, public transportation, education, supporting workers, civic engagement, and more.

Commissioner Sawyer made a motion to set the tax rate at $3.69 on the dollar to generate revenue to pay for these vital public services, but ultimately this effort failed with only Commissioners Whaley, Milton, Turner, and Sawyer voting to support the motion. There were small allotments for transit funding, and a 1 cent increase to support Youth Mental Health, but not on a level that demonstrates a commitment to addressing inequity and poverty. Similarly, Martavius Jones proposed recertifying the tax rate from $3.00 to $3.19, a motion that fell on deaf ears.

Recently, The Moral Budget Coalition released a revised version of our asks to focus on the influx of federal dollars through the American Rescue Plan Act, and urged the County Commission and Memphis City Council to take advantage of this second opportunity to pass a moral budget, rather than continuing to uphold and strengthen the status quo of disinvestment in our community and investing in policing as the go-to solution to address crime and violence.

That same week, Mayor Strickland released his plan for ARPA investments with $6 million for public safety tech upgrades, $6.5 million for take-home vehicles for officers, over half a million for a new felony assault unit, and $13.5 million for police recruitment, accounting for almost 30% of the total ARPA funds. If the Memphis City Council passes Strickland’s budget as is, what message will that send about our values as a City?

Strickland’s plan includes some of the initiatives our coalition identified, though not at the level we’d hoped. His plan earmarks less than $1.5 million for opportunity youth, and we hope this will include employment opportunities that don’t solely focus on picking up trash. While we were glad to see line items for broadband expansion and education supports; those investments pale in comparison to the over $27 million in additional revenue for policing. 

We also believe an investment in youth education supports should include both district and community input, vetting other qualified organizations that provide educational support based on nationally recognized best practices. We maintain that a better vehicle for these initiatives would be a third-party fund that relies on the insight of experts in the field of education.

The Mayor’s plan provides nothing for affordable housing, public transit, supporting workers, and other needed initiatives. Memphis is stuck in a loop of poverty and crime and there is no proof that we’ll ever police our way out of it. Our communities are safer when the people therein have access to the things they need and are not forced to make choices out of stress and desperation.

That is more true now than ever as we see the pandemic coming back with a vengeance and no clear end in sight. It’s time to break that loop and to do so, we need bold leaders who will stand up for their most vulnerable constituents and invest in solutions that get at the roots of crime and violence, namely poverty, lack of well funded education and opportunities for youth. The Memphis City Council, and likewise the Shelby County Commission should take as much time as needed to make sure that ARPA allocations are based on genuine community input and speak to the needs of those most vulnerable in our community.

Take Action Now to support ARPA funding for a Moral


The Moral Budget Coalition

Stand for Children Tennessee, MICAH (Memphis Interfaith Coalition for Action and Hope), Memphis AFL-CIO Labor Council, Memphis Tenants Union, Memphis Music Initiative, My Sistah’s House, BLDG Memphis, Homeless Organizing For Power & Equality, Memphis Restaurant Workers United, Memphis For All, The Decarcerate Memphis, Collective Blueprint, Whole Child Strategies

This afternoon, Shelby County Commissioners will be voting on the tax rate and the budget for FY 21-22. We have one last chance to ask that they pass a moral budget to increase investments that support workers, improve public transportation, increase affordable housing, and support our young people throughout the community. 

Now more than ever, Commissioners must utilize this chance to pass a budget that allows citizens of Shelby County to have access to equitable opportunities for career advancement, quality healthcare, work benefits, and Covid relief for non-essential workers. We can’t allow them to pass a budget that doesn’t benefit the needs of the great citizens who work, play, and live in Shelby County.  

 Please take a few moments to send this letter to County Commissioners asking them to use their moral compass and pass a budget that we all can be proud of for years to come.

Standing with you, 

Dominique Thomas

As a proud member of the Moral Budget Coalition, we would like to thank all of the Stand members and leaders, partner organizations, parents, community leaders, and friends that joined in unison to ask the Memphis City Council and Shelby County Commission to put the needs of the people first and pass a Moral Budget for FY21-22. 

Over the past months, you’ve shown up to various press conferences, waited long hours with us to speak at Commission meetings, and took digital action by sending over 7,000 emails to Memphis and Shelby County lawmakers. Together, we let them know that it’s time to end the constant cycle of disinvestment in our families and neighborhoods and work towards a new day of equity, progress, and prosperity.

 Unfortunately, a majority of the City Council and County Commission voted against additional revenue that could be committed to addressing long-term systemic issues in our community. While we failed to see significant investments in education, public transportation, affordable housing, support for workers, workforce development for young adults, and other essential services, we must celebrate the Moral Budget Champions on both bodies who had the political courage to take action towards a moral budget as proposed by the Moral Budget Coalition.

 We want to thank Commissioner Sawyer for bringing a resolution that aligned with the Shelby County Moral Budget and to Commissioners TurnerMilton, and Whaley, who voted in support of investments for vital services and initiatives like public transit, affordable housing, education, youth, and adult mental health, and more. While there is much left needed, we appreciate Commissioner Lowery for his successful resolution to add an investment for youth and adult mental health as proposed in the Moral Budget. Thanks to Commissioners Brooks, Sawyer, Turner, Milton, Whaley, and Jones for supporting this much-needed investment, especially for our young people. We also appreciate Commissioner Morrison for her role in advocating for transit funding in the county budget. Thanks to Commissioners Brooks, Lowery, Milton, Sawyer, Turner, and Whaley for supporting this beginning to Shelby County investment in public transportation our community desperately needs.

On the City side, we thank Councilman Martavius Jones for his proposal to increase investments that support workers, improve public transportation, increase affordable housing, and support our young people throughout the community. He was the only Memphis City Councilperson who disrupted the status quo and introduced a new view of how we (City Council members included) should approach discussion for a budget that advocates for a better Memphis for generations to come! 

On the brighter side of things, there is a possibility to revisit Moral Budget investments later in the summer as both the city and county take up further discussions on use of one-time federal dollars from the American Rescue Plan. You can count on us to be there with you, pushing for investments to overturn the status quo and move our community forward to equity, progress, and prosperity.  

Standing With You,

Stand Memphis Team 

As we watched the current budget cycle, there was a growing sense that we are caught in an ill-fated loop that never leads to progress and prosperity for our community. Current budget proposals and discussions only played at the edges of any kind of forward movement. The Coalition for a Moral Budget felt the need to come together and propose a set of budget amendments that would be a bold statement for where we wanted Memphis and Shelby County to head in the future. We hope that you will take these recommendations as an opportunity to break us out of the loop of austerity to a new day that makes real commitments to the progress and prosperity of the people of Memphis and Shelby County.

While this may be viewed as late in the budget process, we have seen our local mayors and legislative bodies move mountains to offer tens of millions of dollars in tax incentives to projects within a couple of weeks because time (and the business community) demanded. Since our proposed moral budget does not affect the current budget and supports new revenue to fund the proposed investments, we know that the City Council and County Commission can get this done for our people and communities before the budget deadline with the same urgency and deliberate speed brought to bear for the business community.

We believe these investments reflect the needs of our young people and our most underserved communities, emphasizing the values and priorities most of us hold dear. While some may call this plan ambitious, we believe it is crucial at this moment of grave uncertainty and amazing opportunity. We urge the members of the Memphis City Council and Shelby County Commission to find the political will necessary at this pivotal moment for our community to fund a moral budget.

We are requesting that you:

– Maintain the current tax rate by recertifying the tax rate to the state-mandated level and adjusting it back to the current rate generating an estimated $40M in additional revenue for the City of Memphis and $100M in additional revenue for Shelby County.

– Use the revenue generated from the increased value and wealth in our community to make the investments for people and communities summarized in the charts below and detailed in the corresponding Moral Budget Narrative. 

We also invite you to TAKE ACTION NOW by signing this letter asking Memphis and Shelby County law makers to build a better tomorrow by investing in human infrastructure today.

We raised our voices and the City Council heard us!

 This week, a majority of City Council members voted to protect residency requirements ensuring that police officers would continue to be our neighbors in Memphis & Shelby County. This decision serves as a step in the right direction and reimagining the MPD’s role and relationship with communities and families they vow to protect and serve.

 Kudos to Council members Michalyn Easter-ThomasCheyenne JohnsonMartavius JonesJB SmileyJamita SwearengenRhonda Logan, and Patrice Robinson for voting against the status quo that has contributed to the racial injustice of our city for many years.

City council members who voted to keep the residency requirement on the ballot were Council members CanaleCarlisleColvettFord, Morgan, and Warren. We were highly disappointed in their vote to maintain and support the fallacy that more police officers equate to solving the problem of crime and poverty in Memphis. As Councilwomen Michalyn Easter-Thomas asked in the City Council meeting, “Where is the data that shows more police is the answer to crime and poverty in our city?”

 Thanks to all of you who called, sent emails, and made your voices heard that we need to think differently about policing in our community. With your continued support, together, we can make a difference.

 Send an email and thank the Council members for representing our voice in their vote!

Stand for Children Tennessee Commends Final Passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act

—Civil Rights bill hasn’t been reauthorized in since 2001—

MEMPHIS, TN – Stand for Children Tennessee Memphis City Director, Cardell Orrin, issued the following statement today following President Obama signing the much-anticipated Every Student Succeeds Act, legislation which reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA):

 “The passage of Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is a step in the right direction towards the intent of the original ESEA, a civil rights bill designed to hold states responsible for providing equitable educational opportunities for all children. We are pleased with the assurance that all children will be accounted for and given a chance at a successful life through the opportunity of an excellent education.

 But with the move to give states greater autonomy, our message is this: with great flexibility comes great responsibility. The federal government have done their part. It’s now up to us as Tennesseans to ensure that all Tennessee students receive a fair, high-quality education. It is imperative that we stay hyper-vigilant for our most underserved students to ensure they are receiving the supports needed to graduate from high school on time, prepared for college or career. We cannot allow a bare minimum of expectations to be the norm when it comes to the education of our children.

 Stand for Children Tennessee looks forward to working with education leaders and elected officials, partners, educators, parents, and community members to keep strong accountability locally in our collective work to build an excellent public education system for all.”

 -Cardell Orrin, Stand for Children Tennessee

Stand for Children Tennessee is a nonprofit, parent- and community-based organization that works to ensure that all children graduate from high school prepared for and with access to a college education. Visit


Last Thursday, the legislature completed its business and Tennessee lawmakers closed the books on the 108th General Assembly. The legislative plaza proved to be a hotbed of highly charged issues this year – from wrangling over Medicaid expansion and teacher pay increases to allowing open carry of handguns without a permit. As in years past, a good deal of the spotlight was on issues related to education, including vouchers, the implementation of Common Core State Standards, and teacher licensure.

We identified and actively monitored more than 50 pieces of legislation during this session, all of which had a significant impact on education. Below you will find brief summaries of some of this session’s most notable bills related to education.


HB 702 (White, M.)/ SB 830 (Gresham)   Amends the Tennessee Public Charter Schools Act. Provides that the State Board of Education will have appellate jurisdiction over applications rejected by local school boards that have at least one priority school on the state’s priority schools list. Outlines the process by which the State Board will hear appeals of charter school applications that were denied by  local boards. Reiterates that the decisions of the State Board in these cases are final and not subject to further appeal.

If a local school board’s denial of a charter school application was based on the local school board’s determination that the establishment of the charter school would have a substantial negative fiscal impact, the State Board is required to consider the financial impact of the charter school on the LEA prior to approving a charter school application on appeal. The State Board is expressly prohibited from authorizing charter schools in such instances.

Under the new law, the state board is responsible for overseeing and monitoring the charter schools that it authorizes. For accountability purposes, the measure specifies that the performance of a charter school authorized by the State Board will not be attributable to the local school board. However, a charter school authorized by the State Board and a local school board may mutually agree that the local board will oversee and monitor the school. In this instance, the performance of the charter school will be attributable to the local board.

Charter schools authorized by the State Board will receive the full state and local Basic Education Program (“BEP”) funding and federal funding due to other public charter schools. The charters authorized by the State Board will receive its portion of federal and state BEP funding directly from the Department of Education.


FINAL DISPOSITION: Senate passed, 20-13. House passed, 62-30. Transmitted to Governor.

(The House originally passed HB 702 during the last legislative session. However, its companion bill was held over in the Senate until this legislative session.)


HB 1780 (DeBerry)/ SB 1887 (Gresham)   Amends the Tennessee Public Charter Schools Act. Allows ASD charter schools to enroll students beyond those who are zoned to attend, or enrolled in, a school that is eligible to be placed in the Achievement School District.

Requires charter schools authorized by the ASD to conduct an initial student application period of at least thirty (30) days. During this prescribed period, all students who are zoned to attend, or currently enrolled in, a school that is eligible to be placed in the ASD may enroll. After the initial enrollment period, the charter school may enroll additional students, if the number of eligible students seeking enrollment does not exceed the school’s capacity.  

Eligible students must fall into one of the following categories: (1) In the previous school year, failed to test proficient in the subjects of reading/ language arts or mathematics in grades3-8 on the TCAP; (2) In the previous school year, failed to test proficient in the subjects of reading/ language arts or mathematics on the end of course assessments in grades 9-12; or (3) Are eligible for free and reduced price lunch. These additional students could not represent more than twenty-five percent (25%) of the school’s total student enrollment.


FINAL DISPOSITION: Senate passed, 24-6-2. House bill failed in Budget Subcommittee of Finance Committee.


HB 1989 (White)/ SB 2285 (Dickerson)  Provides that a charter school agreement must be revoked, or denied renewal, if the school is designated a priority school. The governing body of the charter school is entitled to ask the Department of Education to review the data used in making such a determination

A charter school agreement may be revoked or denied renewal if the final chartering authority determines that the school did any of the following: (1) committed a material violation of the agreement; (2) failed to meet generally accepted standards of fiscal management; (3) or performed any of the acts that are conditions for nonapproval as dictated by statute. The chartering authority is required to state its reasons for revoking or denying the renewal of an agreement. Revocations take effect immediately following the close of the school year.

The new law also metes out a procedure for closing or winding down a charter school. First, a chartering authority must have a procedure in place for closing a charter school. Within, two (2) weeks of closing a school, the chartering authority must meet with the school’s governing body and establish a transition team. The team will be responsible for managing various aspects of the school’s closure, including the release and transfer of records, the transfer of students, disposition of school funds, etc. The chartering authority and transition team are also required to keep parents and families of students apprised of key information regarding the school’s closure.


FINAL DISPOSITION: Senate passed, 31-0. House passed, 91-0. Transmitted to Governor.


HB 1693 (DeBerry)/ SB 1684 (Gresham)   Amends the Tennessee Public Charter Schools Act. Allows the governing body of a public charter school to contract with for-profit entities for the management or operation of a charter school. The bill removes the current statutory restriction against for-profit groups managing charter schools.


FINAL DISPOSITION: Senate bill passed out of Education Committee, 6-3. House companion failed in Calendar and Rules Committee, 7-10-1.


HB 190 (McCormick)/ SB 196 (Norris)  Creates the Tennessee Choice and Opportunity Scholarship Act. Establishes a statewide scholarship program for eligible students to attend participating private schools.

Scholarship funds would be rewarded to students who: (1) reside in Tennessee and are zoned to attend or enrolled in a public school that has been identified as being in the bottom five percent (5%) of schools in overall achievement as determined by the criteria set by the State Board of Education; (2) meet the minimum age requirements to attend kindergarten, with eligibility extending until graduation; (3) belong to low-income families and qualify for free or reduced price lunch; and (4) were previously enrolled in a Tennessee public school during the two (2) semesters immediately preceding the semester in which a scholarship is received in accordance with this legislation, is enrolling in a Tennessee school for the first time, or received a scholarship in accordance with this legislation in the previous year.

The bill places annual caps on the total number of scholarships that may be awarded. In the first year, awards would be limited to 5,000 students. In the second and third year, the total number of scholarships awarded would be limited to 7,500 and 10,000, respectively. The number of scholarships awarded would finally crest in its fourth year, capping the total number of scholarships at 20,000. The maximum dollar amount of the scholarships would be equal to either the cost of tuition and fees that would otherwise be charged by the school, or the per pupil amount generated through the BEP for the LEA in which the student resides and is zoned to attend.

If the annual cap on the total number of scholarships is not met, the bill opens eligibility to all low-income students who reside in an LEA that has at least one (1) school in the bottom five percent (5%), meets the age requirements for attendance, and is properly enrolled in a Tennessee public school. The Senate and House versions differ slightly here, as there was an effort afoot in the lower chamber to expand eligibility to students enrolled in schools in the bottom ten percent (10%).

The proposed legislation also prescribes a number of requirements for private schools wishing to participate in the program, including administering assessments and being identified as a category, I, II, or III school.


FINAL DISPOSITION: Senate passed 21-10. House companion failed in House Finance Committee.


HB 1959 (DeBerry)/ SB 2338 (Kelsey)  Provides that parents of students enrolled in a public school that has been identified as a school in the bottom ten percent (10%) of schools may petition the local school board for the conversion of the school to a charter school, or for the restructuring of the school through the transformation or turnaround model. The petition must specify which option the parents are choosing. 

With regard to the option of restructuring through the transformation or turnaround model, the bill mandates that the petition must be signed by 51% of the parents before it can be presented to the local school board. With regard to the option of converting to a charter school, either sixty percent (60%) of the teachers of the school, or fifty-one percent (51%) of the parents of students enrolled in the school, must sign the petition before it can be presented to the local school board. Parents are also required to sign a pledge of support, agreeing to assist the school through its conversion or restructuring.

If parents petition for the transformation model, the local school board must ensure that the transformation (1) develops teacher and leader effectiveness, including replacing the principal and identifying school leaders; (2) adopts comprehensive instructional reform strategies; (3) extends learning time and creates community-oriented schools; and (4) provides operating flexibility and sustained support, such as intensive technical assistance. Likewise, if parents petition for the turnaround model, the local board shall ensure that the turnaround results in: (1) replacement of the principal and fifty percent (50%) of the staff; (2) adoption of new governance of the school; and (3) implementation of a new or revised instructional program.

When a school is restructured under either of the transformation or turnaround model, the LEA must form a community support council for the school. The council would be comprised of parent, community leaders, teachers, and staff. Its chief task would be to create opportunities for parents, students, and the community to come together to support the work of the school. After five (5) schools have been restructured in accordance with this measure, the Comptroller’s office must study the effects of community support councils on the restructuring process.          


FINAL DISPOSITION: Senate bill passed Education Committee, 8-1, and sent to Calendar Committee. House companion failed in Budget Subcommittee.


HB 1375 (Forgety)/ SB 2240 (Tracy)   Prohibits the Department of Education from revoking or not renewing the license of a supervisor, principal, or teacher based on student growth data as represented by TVASS or its functional equivalent.


FINAL DISPOSITION: Senate passed, 26-6. House passed, 88-0. Transmitted to Governor.


HB 1381 (Forgety)/ SB 1856 (Crowe)   Provides that an LEA may adopt a salary schedule that is identical in either structure or designated salary levels, or both, to the salary schedule that the LEA had in place during the 2012-2013 school year. Provides that the schedule must contain steps for each year of service, up to a maximum of twenty (20) years. The schedule must also contain steps for the attainment of advance degrees at the Master’s Degree Designation, Master’s Degree Plus Forty-Five (45) Designation, Education Specialist’s Degree Designation, and the Doctor’s Degree Designation. Prohibits the adoption of a salary schedule that will result in a reduction of the salary of a teacher who was employed by the LEA at the time the salary schedule was adopted. 


FINAL DISPOSITION: Senate passed, 30-1. House passed, 95-0. Transmitted to Governor.


HB 1758 (Haynes)/ SB 1813 (Massey)   Provides that a teacher who has received an evaluation demonstrating an overall performance effectiveness level  of “significantly above expectations” on each of the teacher’s last three (3) evaluations may petition the Commissioner of Education for a waiver of any requirement for renewal of the teacher’s license. If the Commissioner grants the waiver, the teacher is not responsible for meeting the requirement that was waived in order to receive a renewal of the license.

STAND’S Position: Neutral

FINAL DISPOSITION: Senate passed, 32-0. House companion passed, 90-0. Transmitted to Governor.

HB 2264 (Hawk)/ SB 2342 (Bowling)   Prohibits the State Board of Education from establishing rules, policies, or guidelines that require classroom observation results to be aligned with TVASS data.

STAND’S Position: Oppose

FINAL DISPOSITION: Senate passed, 28-0. House passed, 97-0. Transmitted to Governor.


HB 1549 (Dunn)/ SB 1835 (Gresham)   Prohibits the federal government from imposing educational standards onto Tennessee public schools. Creates the “Data Accessibility, Transparency, and Accountability Act.”  Expressly grants parents and guardians the right to inspect and review their children’s education records.

Restricts the State of Tennessee from adopting Common Core State Standards in any subject area beyond mathematics and English language arts. Provides that the State Board of Education must post any proposed changes to educational standards for public review, and submit the proposed changes to the Education Committees of both the House and Senate. The Board must remit the changes sixty (60) days before it meets to adopt the standards. The Board is precluded from joining a testing consortium comprised of multiple states that requires the Board to adopt common standards in science and social studies, unless the Board gives notice to the Education Committees of both the House and Senate sixty (60) days prior to joining. Additionally, the Board must post a notice on its web site of its intent to join such a consortium sixty (60) days prior to joining.

Establishes criteria for the collection of certain student data and adoption of educational standards. Data collected from the use of the standards, or from testing under the standards, must be used strictly for the purpose of tracking students’ academic progress. The Board must take the following steps to ensure transparency around the process of collecting student data: (1) create and publish a data inventory and index of data elements with definitions of individual student data fields; (2) develop and publish policies and procedures to comply with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (“FERPA”) and other relevant privacy laws; (3) develop a detailed security plan; (4) ensure compliance by the Department of Education with FERPA, other relevant privacy laws and policies, and the privacy and security policies and procedures enacted in accordance with this law; (5) ensure that any contracts that govern databases, assessments, or instructional supports that include student or de-identified data, and are outsourced to private vendors, include express provisions that safeguard privacy and security; (6) notify the Governor and the General Assembly within sixty (60) days, of any new data fields are added to the student data system, if changes to the existing data system are needed, if any security audits have been performed, etc.

The Department of Education is required to develop a model student records policy for LEAs by December 31, 2014. The policy will require LEAs to: (1) annually notify parents and guardians of their right to request student information; (2) ensure security when providing student data to parents; (3) ensure that data is provided only to authorized individuals; (4) Set the timeframe in which record requests must be provided; and (5) consider a plan to allow parents to view online, download, and transmit data specific to their children’s educational records. An LEA may either adopt the Department’s model policy or develop its own. However, if an LEA elects to develop its own student records policy, the LEA is required to submit the policy to the Department for approval. LEAs must have a policy in place by the 2015-2016 school year.

LEAs and schools are precluded from collecting individual student data on (1) political affiliation; (2) religion; (3) voting history; and (4) firearms ownership. State agencies and educational institutions must obtain written consent from parents, before collecting any individual student biometric data, student data relative to analysis of facial expressions, EEG brain wave patterns, skin conductance, galvanic skin response, heart-rate variability, pulse, blood volume, posture, and eye- tracking. State agencies and educational institutions are restricted from applying or accepting grants that require the collection or reporting of such data. Additionally, no state or national student assessment that requires the collection or reporting of such data can be administered in Tennessee.

In lieu of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (“PARCC”) assessment, the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (“TCAP”) will be administered in the subjects of English and math in grades 3-11 during the 2014-2015 school year. Prior to that school year, the Department of Education, in consultation with the Comptroller, must issue a Request For Proposals (“RFP”) to provide a standards-aligned assessment. This assessment will be administered during the 2015-2016 school year. By December 31, 2014, the Fiscal Review Committee must review all contracts awarded pursuant to the RFP. The committee must also report to both the House and Senate Education Committees on the terms of the contract.


FINAL DISPOSITION: Senate passed, 28-0. House passed 84-8.