By Steve Hunley

36% is Nothing to Brag About

Recently, the Knoxville edition of USA Today blared the headline 36% of students in Tennessee were reading at grade level as if it were something to be proud of.  That is according to statistics pre-pandemic.  The headline seemed backwards to me.  Parents and taxpayers need to know 64% of students in Tennessee aren’t reading at grade level.  Then comes the news state legislators are again considering legislation to stop students from being passed to the next grade when they aren’t reading at grade level in the first grade. Some educators have expressed concerns about that notion, but too many parents and grandparents aren’t aware their children and grandchildren are being passed to the next grade despite in some instances, not being able to read well at all.

WZTV in Nashville aired a story last year on Sonya Thomas who expressed her dismay and horror upon learning her son, then in the 7th grade, was reading at a 2nd-grade level last year.  Governor Bill Lee says it’s only gotten worse since the pandemic and I believe it.  Ms. Thomas, at the time, made a very interesting and insightful statement: “It is not the burden of the child to prove that they can read; it is the burden of educators to prove they know how to teach children to read.”

Beth Brown, the head of the Tennessee Education Association, during the beginning of this particular discussion, retreated where the educational-industrial complex always tries to hide any particular failure: lack of resources and funding.

Clearly, our students need to be able to read and the current trend pushed by many educators to accommodate the lowest common denominator isn’t helping.  We spend more money in this country on education than ever, oftentimes with the same number or fewer children.  We have also diverted hundreds of millions of dollars to programs that didn’t exist back in the day on special education, teaching children to speak English and restorative practices.  There remains little accountability in education with swollen bureaucracies that have yet to demonstrate they can master any particular problem and the abdication of too many parents expecting the government to raise their children.  Teachers’ unions, irrespective of what they might say, fight any effort to reward outstanding educators with any form of “merit” pay and insist upon one-size-fits-all pay raises across the board for those good and bad teachers.


Biden’s High Gas Prices

As Joe Biden writes letters to presidents of oil companies and releases the texts of those letters before they even are received by their intended recipients, Americans need to think through a few things.  Firstly, profits by energy companies were twice what they are now during the Obama – Biden administration.  Do you recall Barack Obama or Joe Biden condemning the oil companies then?  Of course, you didn’t because it never happened.

Secondly, who is likely to invest billions and billions of dollars in oil and gas exploration, which does require significant investment, or building refineries for a practice (fossil fuels) Biden has said will be extinct within 15 – 20 years?  The answer is simple: not much of anyone.  That is yet another reason for escalating prices at the fuel pump.

The most disgusting thing about the incompetence of Biden and his administration, aside from the needless pain and suffering inflicted deliberately upon Americans – – – especially working and middle-class families, is the fact none of the Democrats have the guts to tell the truth.  Leftists, socialists, and much of the media abjectly fell on their knees when Biden declared his jihad on fossil fuels.  If everyone supports these supposedly necessary economic sacrifices, then why do Biden and the Democrats have to lie and try and blame Putin, the oil companies or anyone else?  Why not admit it is a direct result of their own policies?  Because we all know they don’t want to pay the price for that admission in the November general election precisely because their majorities in Congress would be wiped out.  That alone proves the American people do not support the foolish socialist policies implemented by the most incompetent administration in American history.  It’s why our local Democrats here want to talk about everything but what their own party is doing in Washington.

Whatever the opposite of the “Midas Touch” might be – – – perhaps a touch that turns what was once successful into a steaming pile of poo, that is Joe Biden’s super power.


Tax and Spend

The City of Knoxville under Mayor Indya Kincannon spent just under $200,000 planning and executing the Juneteenth parade.  Kincannon, who didn’t have the money to keep police officers inside schools, found the money after instituting the largest property tax increase in the city’s history.  Once again, tax and spend, tax and spend.


Money Should Follow the Child

The Supreme Court just handed down a decision rejecting the State of Maine’s ban on aid to religious schools.  The ruling does not require states to support religious schools, but those states which subsidize private schools may not exclude religious schools.  The 6 – 3 decision was just released last week and promises to help the money follow the child.


City of Knoxville Also Part of Knox County

Democrats gnashed their teeth and cried unto the heavens (or wherever they cry when vexed) when County Commissioner-at-Large Larsen Jay appeared before the city council to express his opposition to the largest property tax increase in the City of Knoxville’s history.  One thing overlooked by local media (they manage to overlook quite a lot) and many Democrats was the fact as Jay represents the entire county, he also represents every resident of the city.  Democrats are mighty fond of reminding folks that the city is part of the county, yet they were outraged Larsen Jay would dare to speak up for those people he represents.  As a resident of the city and a taxpayer, Jay had every right to appear, but even more so as a member of the county commission.  Not everyone supported the property tax increase – – – both Janet Testerman and Amelia Parker voted against it as members of the council.

Grab and Spend?

Cameron Brooks, local realtor, relentless advocate for dogs, and former member of the Knox County Election Commission, has found a potentially lethal issue in his race for the Knoxville City Council next year.  Already busy organizing and fundraising, Brooks has latched onto the conversation generated by Larsen Jay’s appearance before the council.  Lynne Fugate noted the City of Knoxville was turning over 72 cents rather than the 50 cents of the sales tax collected as required by state law.

City residents voted years ago to go out of the school business, leaving the county responsible for the entire schooling of all children inside the city and all over the county.  The city school system was not exactly a whiz-bang operation of efficiency and economy.  Every time Knox County floated a bond issue for its own schools, 48% of the issue had to be turned over to the city school system whether it needed the money or not.  When the city schools went out of business, the county spent something like $90 million to bring the school buildings inside the city up to a decent standard, meaning removing the asbestos and air conditioning them.

Perhaps the biggest reason (one never mentioned by Lynne Fugate) why the city government was turning over 72 cents instead of 50 cents on the dollar is because of the highly aggressive annexation campaign under then-Mayor Victor Ashe.  Victor chose to grow the city by snatching property outside the city limits, especially areas that produced high sales tax revenue.  Virtually every lucrative sales tax-producing area in the county was taken in by annexation, which took money out of the school budget.  Keep in mind the 22 cents may sound small but it comes to at least $38 million.

Now Fugate is suggesting the city government turn over only 50 cents and keep the remaining 22 cents which it can spend on other things (i.e. social welfare programs).  Indya Kincannon said she would explore the idea, although the voters inside the city had approved it by referendum.

Both Kincannon and Fugate served on the Knox County Board of Education under then-superintendent Jim McIntyre.  Both were devoted followers.  Fugate even voted to outsource the custodians (Kincannon didn’t but she only very reluctantly went against McIntyre).  Both Fugate and Kincannon supported McIntyre’s bid to have the county commission implement the largest property tax increase in its history, which failed badly.  There is no question that both Fugate and Kincannon would have been scandalized by the notion of the city government cutting back its commitment to the schools, thinking it could force the county mayor and county commission to raise taxes to make up the shortfall.