By Angie Mayes
Special to Mt. Juliet News
A voucher program, which would allow students to use public funds to pay for private school tuition is before the Tennessee General Assembly.
Voucher programs also are known as “opportunity scholarships,” “education savings,” “tax credits” or similar terms. The Wilson County Board of Education voted Thursday night to send a resolution to the General Assembly that opposed the voucher program. The board said it would take money away from public schools.
“Proponents have spent millions to convince the public and lawmakers of their efficiency, yet, more than five decades after introduction, vouchers remain controversial, unproven and unpopular,” said Wilson County Director of Schools Donna Wright.
“In every legislation since 2010, there’s been a voucher bill. Sometimes multiple bills have been put forth. We’ve been told that there are multiple bills that will be put forward this year. Gov.-elect Bill Lee said he is open to supporting vouchers, as well.”
Several lawmakers support the voucher system, including Lee, a Republican, and newly elected House Speaker Glen Casada, R-Thompson’s Station.
The Constitution of the state of Tennessee requires that the Tennessee General Assembly “provide for the maintenance, support and eligibility standards of a system of free public schools,” and the state has established nationally recognized standards and measures for accountability in public education, according to the resolution
“Vouchers eliminate accountability, by channeling taxes to private schools without the same academic or testing requirements, public budgets or reports on student achievement, open meetings and records law adherence, public accountability requirements in major federal laws, including special education laws,” Wright said. “Vouchers have not been proven effective at improving student achievement or closing the achievement gap, and vouchers leave students behind, including those with the greatest needs, because vouchers channel tax dollars into private schools that are not required to accept all students, nor offer the special services they may need.”
Wright said vouchers would only pay for part of the tuition, not the full amount. That would affect students in need, she said. Unlike public schools, the private schools do not have to offer spots to every student who wants to go to the school, she said.
The school systems are paid by the state for each student in the school system. With the voucher system, students would attend a private school. Therefore, the Wilson County school system would not receive money for the students.
Wright said underfunded public schools are less able to attract and retain teachers, and vouchers give choices to private entities, rather than to parents and students, since the providers decide whether to accept vouchers, how many and which students to admit and potentially arbitrary reasons they might dismiss a student.
Wright said she is concerned about the fact vouchers divert critical funds from public schools to pay private school tuition for a few students, including those who already attend private schools.
“Vouchers are inefficient, compelling taxpayers to support two-school systems, one public and one private, the latter of which is not accountable to all taxpayers supporting it,” she said.
The resolution said the Wilson County Board of Education “opposes any legislation or other similar effort to create a voucher program in Tennessee that would divert money intended for public education to private entities.”
The resolution passed unanimously. A copy of the resolution will be delivered to the governor, each member of the Tennessee General Assembly and Wilson County Commission, as well as the state education commissioner.