Defiant school districts get Democrat’s backing; no penalty (yet)

School systems in Nashville and Memphis ignored the Monday deadline set by state Education Commissioner Candice McQueen for turning over student data to charter school operators while House Democratic Leader Mike Stewart publicly called on the commissioner to back off the demand, saying she’s violating expressed “legislative intent” to protect student privacy.

McQueen had declared the Memphis and Nashville school systems would face consequences if they missed the deadline, but Chalkbeat Tennessee reports there were none – except a “firm reprimand.”  At least for now.

When the end of the day passed — as expected — without any data-sharing, McQueen declined to penalize the districts. Instead, she issued a stern statement.

“We are disappointed that these districts are choosing to withhold information from parents about the options that are available to their students while routinely saying they desire more parental engagement,” she said. “Allowing parents to be informed of their educational options is the epitome of family engagement and should be embraced by every school official.”


McQueen seemed to indicate that firmer consequences could lie ahead. “We must consider all options available in situations where a district actively chooses to ignore the law,” she said in the statement. McQueen told lawmakers in a conference call last month that she was not discussing withholding state funds as a penalty at the time, according to Rep. John Clemmons, who was on the call.

The anticlimactic decision comes after weeks of back-and-forth between the state and its two largest school districts over student contact information — the latest front in the districts’ ongoing enrollment war with charter schools.

News release from House Democratic Caucus


NASHVILLE, Tenn. — House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Stewart (D-Nashville) today called on Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen to stand down from her demand that local school systems in Memphis and Nashville surrender personal data on large numbers of students and families.


Stewart, a member of the House Education Instruction and Programs Committee, said McQueen is basing her data demand on a flawed interpretation of Public Chapter 307, which only requires school systems to share information with charter schools in order to “effectuate” enrollments for individual students who choose to transfer.


Instead, McQueen wants information on tens of thousands of families in order launch marketing and recruiting campaigns designed to redirect students to charter schools in the failing state-run Achievement School District.  Stewart demanded that McQueen change her position to reflect what was represented to the Legislature when Public Chapter 307 was debated: “We were specifically assured in subcommittee, with Department of Education Officials present and in agreement, that student information would not be shared for marketing purposes – I ask Commissioner McQueen to stand by what was represented.  Otherwise, we have to question whether the Department of Education can be trusted in future legislative discussions.”


“Contrary to Commissioner McQueen’s interpretation, the legislature never intended for students and families’ personal data to be confiscated so that charter schools and the Achievement School District can stage marketing raids on traditional schools,” Stewart said.  “This is a gross misinterpretation of legislative intent, not to mention the fact that the ASD is now universally recognized as a failed experiment in education reform.”


Earlier this month, Rep. John Forgety (R-Athens), chair of the Education Instruction and Programs Committee, raised concerns about the broad sharing of data for marketing purposes and the subcommittee hearing in which he had been assured that that would not be authorized.


Over the past month, numerous media reports have highlighted problems with the ASD — including poor academic performance, leadership turmoil, and a federal investigation into alleged sexual violence.


“At this point, no reasonable person would conclude that surrendering students and families’ personal data to the ASD is in the best interests of children,” Stewart said. “I commend the local school boards in Memphis and Nashville for standing up to the Haslam administration’s overreaching data demand.”


Looking ahead, Stewart said McQueen must recognize the Tennessee General Assembly’s intent when it comes to interpreting state laws. Earlier this month, the Tennessean reported that McQueen said she would “not interpret the legislative intent of the law when it was passed.”


Stewart added: “Commissioner McQueen’s blatant disregard of legislative intent in this matter reflects the Haslam administration’s disdain for the General Assembly as well as a fundamental misunderstanding of how government works. As legislators, we must hold her accountable in the future.”

Note: Most recent previous post on the subject, HERE.

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