Political notebook: Steve Bannon criticizes U.S. Rep. Greene, while Gov. Lee seeks to fend off criticism over 3rd grade retention law

Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene waves to supporters as she arrives at the Tunnel Hill Depot during a campaign stop in Tunnel Hill, Ga., on Oct. 26.

NASHVILLE — Republican U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia has come under fire from a onetime ally, Steve Bannon, for her support of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy's debt-ceiling agreement with President Joe Biden.

"They Should Both Face Primary Challenges from Real MAGA," Bannon wrote of Greene and McCarthy in a post this past week on the social media platform Gettr. Bannon served as an early White House chief strategist under then-President Donald Trump and earlier worked as a political strategist and investment banker in addition to co-founding the conservative news site Breitbart.

Prior to the vote, Greene, a Rome congresswoman and staunch Trump ally who has closely aligned herself with McCarthy, said she has asserted since "Day One" of the GOP assuming control of the chamber in January that government spending is "where the fight is.

"And this plan allows us to pass 12 separate appropriation bills, and that's really important to me. Because I believe we have to fight to stop the weaponized government, we have to fight to reduce spending," she told Washington-based reporters prior to the vote. "We have to figure out a way to stop the 87,000 IRS agents that are going to target conservatives."

If you have to eat a bad sandwich, you want to have sides. It makes it much better, Greene, in another conversation, told reporters just outside McCarthy's U.S. Capitol office, The Hill reported.

"So what I'm looking for is, I'm looking for some sides and some desserts," the congresswoman said.

That includes an effort to impeach Biden or a cabinet official, she added. Greene said the Fiscal Responsibility Act represents the "largest spending cut" in the nation's history, with projections it would reduce spending by some $2 trillion over six years.

Tennessee's U.S. House delegation divided last week as Congress voted to approve a package raising the nation's debt ceiling while trimming some parts of the budget.

Voting yes were Republican Reps. Chuck Fleischmann of Ooltewah, Mark Green of Portland and David Kustoff of Memphis. Also voting aye was Rep. Steve Cohen, a Memphis Democrat. The no votes came from Republican Reps. Tim Burchett of Knoxville, Scott DesJarlais of Sherwood, Diana Harshbarger of Kingsport, Andy Ogles of Culleoka and John Rose of Cookeville.

Tennessee third grade reading law

Tennessee Republican Gov. Bill Lee is defending the 2021 English Language Arts law he pushed that requires third graders in public and public charter schools to achieve proficiency in reading, writing and comprehension or face summer camps, tutoring or even being held back when it comes to advancing to fourth grade.

Sixty percent of third graders didn't make the grade, a figure that includes students scoring "below" reading proficiency as well as those "approaching" proficiency on the language arts section of the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program.

"I think, you know, testing has been for decades, a standard use to determine if children are progressing appropriately. And the worst thing we can do is push kids into upper grades when they can't," progress at grade level, Lee told reporters last week after touring a road construction project on the Upper Cumberland Plateau. "And we are creating a certainty for failure."

The governor said the state has "created an opportunity" for students who didn't pass the reading test the first time to have additional testing in summer schools to have "pathways" to move forward into fourth grade while ensuring the child can read at that level.

"I'm a parent and a grandparent, and we need our children to be able to read, and we've seen in other states like Mississippi, significant improvements in reading for children in that state when they implemented a similar law that just made sure we didn't push kids forward who didn't have the capacity," Lee said.

Try telling that to impacted parents, a number of whom have spoken out on social media and elsewhere, saying their children had done well on other testing throughout the year and they were blindsided after being told their children weren't doing well according to the state assessment.

"Again, this is very difficult, and it's really difficult on a family when their child needs to have additional tutoring, needs to have additional supports, needs to take another test, that's hard. It's hard on the kids, hard on the family," Lee said. "What's harder, is watching that kid fail in fourth, fifth and sixth grade."

The third graders were part of the pandemic generation of students whose in-school experience from pre-K was disrupted by the pandemic and often had to learn online from home. Some children lacked adequate internet connections, while teachers were forced to adjust to student instruction online. Lee, as well as his now-departing education commissioner, Penny Schwinn, warned a traditional "summer slide" in learning for students had become a much steeper "COVID slide."

In 2021, some lawmakers pushed during a special session called by Lee on COVID-19 and related issues to curb virtual learning, but it didn't pass.

The consulting firm McKinsey & Company examined the national impact on the 2020-2021 academic year.

"Our analysis shows that the impact of the pandemic on K-12 student learning was significant, leaving students, on average, five months behind in mathematics and four months behind in reading by the end of the school year. The pandemic widened preexisting opportunity and achievement gaps, hitting historically disadvantaged students hardest," a McKinsey & Company report said.

Jim Wrye, assistant executive director, with the Tennessee Education Association, which represents public school teachers, took issue with the state using Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program scores in a text to the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

"There are students who should be held back in earlier grades certainly," he stated but noted "using TCAP doesn't make sense."

Wrye said those scores also present the first standardized "high stakes" test for an 8-year-old.

And he said utilizing a 65th percentile for being considered on track is the "highest cut score bar in the country." That's "arbitrary and far too high" for 8-year-olds, Wrye argued.

"We added one more measure, but need a greater variety for our 8-year-olds," Wrye said.

While the 60% figure for students not being proficient is alarming, that includes 35% of the students "approaching" proficiency. Here's the statewide breakdown:

— Below proficiency: 25%.

— Approaching proficiency: 35%.

— Met proficiency: 27%.

— Exceeded proficiency: 13%.

Hamilton County Schools: In Hamilton County, about 60 percent of third graders were below proficiency or approaching it, while about 40 percent met or exceeded expectations. Here's how that breaks down:

— Below proficiency: 28.86%.

— Approaching proficiency: 31.08%.

— Met proficiency: 26.64%.

— Exceeded proficiency: 13.42%.

Total proficiency: 40.06%.

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-285-9480.