Vouchers in Tennessee? We Will Find Out This Week – 5 Things You Need to Know

Last week I warned you about the perils of charter school season in Nashville (‘member?). Well, this week in the Tennessee legislature, vouchers are on the docket and the battle is on. A message for those (like me) who appreciate all aspects of school choice up to and not including vouchers: you are defaulted to the voucher crowd. Whatever.

I am rehashing a portion of a post from two weeks ago offering up 5 things you need to know about vouchers. You decide.

There is little evidence proving vouchers’ effectiveness at lifting underserved students to educational excellence, so as we venture into these unknown waters, take the following five facts with you.

1. Vouchers and charters schools are two very different approaches to choice. While both serve as options for parents, vouchers send parents completely out of the public school system and, in many cases, require them to pay tuition balances that vouchers don’t cover.

Charter schools are non-traditional public schools enrolled entirely by lottery, and no exchange of money is involved for the parent.

2. Even without real evidence of student success on a large scale, Tennessee legislators are still willing to test the waters with our children. No matter which bill passes, vouchers will be available to Tennessee’s most vulnerable communities.

3. Currently, 14 states and D.C. Public Schools fund vouchers based on family income and/or students with disabilities. Each state has very specific income and/or Individualized Education Plan (IEP) requirements. Outliers: Maine and Vermont extend vouchers to students who live in an area with no operating schools. Ohio offers vouchers to every student in Cleveland school district falling under poverty line by 200%. There are other states that offer vouchers to students in schools with an ‘F’ designation.

4. Voucher legislation throughout country tends to start with small, specialized groups (poverty, IEP).

From the Washington Post:

“The political strategy that voucher supporters have used is to start off small and targeted — low-income families and special-education students — then gradually expand it to more groups,” said Douglas Harris, a Tulane University professor of economics who favors choice but has been critical of DeVos’s free-market approach. 

So, even though Tennessee’s most popular (and most likely to become law) voucher legislation targets low-income students in Shelby County, if passed, we can expect the program to grow to other counties while gradually adding other student groups.

5. If you care about accountability or the combining of church and state, then vouchers are not your thing. The taxpayer funded tuition payments will go to private schools which are not required to adhere to the state accountability standards required of the federally-funded public schools. Additionally, the government-funded tuition payments will be available to religious and parochial schools.

Tomorrow is a big day for the Senate Education Committee :


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