Metro school board votes to urge rejection of state voucher bill

Tuesday, October 25, 2011 at 9:25pm

Following in the footsteps of Knox County, and perhaps aligning with Tennessee’s two other largest school districts, Metro Nashville Public Schools went on record Tuesday urging the state legislature to reject legislation accommodating vouchers that would divert public funds to private schools.

“I don’t think it’s the proper way for our children in the Metropolitan Nashville public school system to go,” school board chair Gracie Porter said of a voucher system she contends would subtract public dollars from the classroom. 

The Metro Nashville Board of Education unanimously approved a resolution Tuesday to oppose voucher legislation like the one state Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) has vowed to reintroduce, which would create what he calls “Equal Opportunity Scholarships.” Such scholarships, totaling half the amount the state and school districts spends on a student, would be available for students to attend independent, private or religious institutions. The formula equals $4,050 in Metro. 

Kelsey’s bill died in the House last session. He plans to bring it back again before the next General Assembly. He won’t have the support of Metro’s school board or Director of Schools Jesse Register. 

“Vouchers remain controversial and unpopular with no proven benefit to student performance,” reads one of several sections in Metro’s resolution, which is to be delivered to Gov. Bill Haslam, House Speaker Beth Harwell, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and every other state House and Senate member. 

Kelsey’s bill has aroused the attention of the Coalition of Large Schools Systems, which has a lobbying presence on the Hill, representing school systems in Chattanooga, Knoxville, Memphis and Nashville. 

Knox County’s school board has already voted for a CLASS-influenced anti-voucher resolution. Like Nashville, the Memphis Unified School District was to consider one Tuesday night. On Thursday, Chattanooga’s board of education is poised to weigh in. 

The nine-member Metro school board’s vote came after a 15-minute discussion initiated by board member Kay Simmons, who asked her colleagues to relay some pro-voucher system arguments: “Can anyone speak to this?” 

Veteran board member Ed Kindall offered to help, saying vouchers help private institutions: “I haven’t seen any academic data to suggest it helps what we do. The people to answer that would have to be those proposing.” 

Kelsey, who resides in an affluent Memphis suburb, has argued his voucher scholarships would give “hope for a better education” and greater choice to impoverished children. He has said low-income students shouldn’t be forced to attend failing schools. 

But board members Tuesday took particular exception to the choice argument, pointing out the district’s recent expansion of charter and thematic magnet schools. 

“I’ve not heard anything other than vouchers are another choice,” Porter said. “Well, when you look at [Metro] schools, we are providing as many choices as any school district, and we will continue to add more.”

Board member Michael Hayes, who represents the Green Hills area on the board, said he would have preferred the resolution include footnotes to explain how some of its anti-voucher conclusions were drawn. But he also said he wished state legislators supporting a voucher system would have reached out to Metro.   

“I’m very disappointed that no one from the state legislature reached out to anybody in Nashville –– I haven’t heard if they have in Memphis, Knoxville or Chattanooga –– to explain why this is necessary,” Hayes said. 

“I’ve received multiple emails from constituents who were excited about the legislation and others who were opposed,” he added.

Board member Mark North, who acts as Metro’s representative in the large school coalition, said he and Register would be testifying before the House Education Committee next week to discuss their opposition to vouchers and other issues.

27 Comments on this post:

By: tv8527 on 10/25/11 at 9:22

They want to keep the mediocre" t.e.a" standard of education & to hell with something that will actually work.Private schools provide a better environment for education.Also the parents that will actually use the vouchers are more likely to take an interest in their child's the # s may be a little low comparing a small group of students in a controlled study.But wait till the smart kids leave the public system & you are left with the problem kids that don't want to be there or who's parent's don't give a damn .Take a look @ the same study a couple of years later.You will see that private schools work.

By: EDUNITED on 10/26/11 at 5:47

I don't know whether the bill is a good one or not, but the abysmal performance of the public school system needs to be addressed. Throwing money at the problem and having "experts" train our teachers seems to be a failing proposition. The schools system fails most children. The brightest and most able get extra help (or their parents pay for it), and the least able - physically or mentally - get lots of resources too. It is the broad middle that receives a poor education. The Education Establishment resists change and anything that either reveals the lack of results or affects their wallet. Voucher programs do both. The voucher program in Washington DC was so effective the Obama Administration and the Democrat majority Congress killed it. Parents and local DC pols(mostly Dems) raised heck to no avail. We may as well try vouchers; other programs trying to "change the system" have failed.

Ed vanVoorhees

By: madridia on 10/26/11 at 6:41

Actually, private schools are no better than public schools on average. Attending a private school has no predictive power at determining college success when you control for grades, test scores, and parents' education. Moreover, because private schools want to show off their high test scores in order to be "competitive," they systematically deny entrance to special-needs learners, slow learners, and the disadvantaged. They don't accept everyone who applies. Vouchers will drain an already cash-strapped school system, and it will do so at the expense of poor children who already have plenty of hurdles to overcome, and a lot less privilege to support their learning. Vouchers will not help most of them.

I miss the America that believed in a meritocracy, where children would be supported and encouraged by the community at large no matter the conditions of their birth. I miss the America that understood that we are judged as a society based upon how we treat the least of our members, especially children in poverty. And I don't know how we have become so selfish that we would actually think, "Wow, I could get a $5,400 discount on my kids' private school education," before we would think what it means to take that money from needy children. It's just me-me-me all the time. How sad.

By: jcdad2003 on 10/26/11 at 7:40

The voucher program is a much better ideal than anything that has come from the so called experts in awhile. The great Charter School movement is not working, and is putting public funds into private pockets. They are able to maintain their charter as long as they show growth, but you are native if you think the people who run these school are not about the almighty dollar. They get every cent a school system gets for every child they enroll.
As a former teaher of NVA I experienced first hand how they are all about the mighty dollar. The school adminstrator which also runs a not for profit social services company took he and his wife on two exotic vacations during the school year. A week in the islands, and on a cruise. Had Dr. Register did this in the middle of the school year he would be jobless, and if looked as questionable as this did he would be under investigation. Nothing was ever said, and anybody who question the directors motives were fired.
At least with the voucher system the state is only giving half of the taxpayers money to the private shools. The private school will not tolerate those students who are behavior problems either, simply out of fear of loosing the students who want to be there, so yes they will not let every student who applies in the school. As for the education goes I am not sure what test scores you are comparing. The only tests that a private school and a public school have in common are the ACT/SAT, and yes there is a big difference in those scores between private and public.

By: frodo on 10/26/11 at 8:28

Many families yearn for a chance to break out of the public school prison. The Metro School Board Warden refers to "our children." Well, they aren't your children, Gracie. they are ours. The old saying comes to mind, "Let my people go."

By: RTungsten on 10/26/11 at 9:03

Here is what will happen, so go ahead and jot this down (date and time, please). If this is approved, the cost of private schools will increase to erase any voucher amount given. What this is going to hurt are those folks who have children in private school now and struggling to keep their kids in school. The only way public school kids are welcome in private schools is if they are good at sports.

By: pswindle on 10/26/11 at 9:05

There are some that want something for nothing.

By: shey69 on 10/26/11 at 9:05

madridia - well said. I've always said- there are the m
Me's and the We's. I'm a We and I'm seeing more and more Me's these days. On the road, in political discussions, and in business. You are right. This is just another example of short sighted selfishness. FIX THE PUBLIC SCHOOLS! Every citizen supports education, why is it so difficult to take care of our children?

The current system already encourages self segregation. Those that have the means or at least parental support, enroll in magnet schools leaving the troubled, struggling and mostly average kids behind. Without parental support, schools fail. With parental support, schools flourish. As long as this is the determining factor for school success, we will always have failing schools. The question is...

How do we create a successful school that is not dependent on Parents?

By: frodo on 10/26/11 at 10:37

shey69, your comments betray in-the-box thinking. Your mind is stuck inside the government-run school box, where "we" means the government schools. And if anyone mentions some other venue/model for education, then they are stuck on "me."

You are right that "Every citizen supports education." Well, you are sort of right, anyway, but actually many citizens do not pay property tax (and some aren't even citizens, but that is another issue). The problem is that, with your in-the-box thinking, when you say "Every citizen supports education," you think that means every citizen must support the government-run solution.

An approach to budgeting that was newly popular back in the 70's was "zero based budgeting," wherein you don't start with last year's assumptions and just add more $$ to it. If applied to education, you start at zero and then ask, what is the best way or ways to educate children? The choices might include government schools, private schools and homeschools (yes, I said the dreaded "h" word). Now, what funds are needed to support those historically successful models? That is out-of-the-box thinking...but maybe they didn't teach that where some of you went to school.

Bottom line, if you want to own my tax money, then you cannot lock it up in that little box in your mind and tell me that any other solution is just "me" thinking.

By: DREIFMA on 10/26/11 at 11:23

Count me in as one of those greedy my children above all everyone elses and give me a voucher. I have put two children through private school and I am two thirds through on a third. It would have been a disaster for them to have been put in public school of Davidson County. The influence in popular culture has been a drag on them, but actually living in a group where 40% dont graduate and that very same group is highly disruptive to the learning process would have been a disaster for my children. I could have lived the dream in Franklin and put my children in public school. But lately I have some parents say to me that they wish they had done what we had done, lived in Davidson County and sent the children to private school as the results they received are now starting to show that Williamson County is not all its cracked up to be either.

By: DREIFMA on 10/26/11 at 11:26

One more thought, maybe all the private school people should sign up for public school and send their children there until the city/state agrees to provide vouchers. You would have massive overcrowding with the attendant lawsuits and of course the test scores would go up, until they left. Of course we would have to pay tuition to keep our schools going until an accomodation is made.

By: JohnGalt on 10/26/11 at 12:20

I suspect the lawyers would love for this law to come to pass. The vouchers would cover only a small portion of the actual private school tuition so the school might be expected by some to provide a sholarship for the remainder..or, maybe be charged with discrimination. Just sayin'.

By: athyrio on 10/26/11 at 1:42

Let's see....
Fact 1) - Public schools have to serve whosoever shows up at the door.
Fact 2) - Private schools DON'T have to serve whosoever shows up at the door.
Fact 3) - Voucher dollars would come out of public school budgets and go into private school budgets.
Fact 4) - Public schools in Tennessee are already horribly underfunded.

Taken collectively, vouchers look like a really sweet deal for private schools, and not so much for public schools. If the cost is burdensome, the private school kids can go to public schools. On the other hand, a kid who would not otherwise financially qualify for enrollment at a private school remains S.O.L.

As a tax payer, I am in favor of my tax dollars doing more good for more people. Vouchers don't seem to meet that bar.

By: frodo on 10/26/11 at 1:47

Discrimination is when you pay tax money to educate children, and all education options but one are excluded.

By: RTungsten on 10/26/11 at 2:00

You guys don't seem to have a problem with everyone supporting the system, even if they use it or not. Between my family and I, we have paid a few hundred thousand dollars for private school education...yet, we are still taxed and that money is thrown into the bottomless pit known as the Metro public school system. I'd be more in favor of tax deduction vouchers for kids in private school.

By: athyrio on 10/26/11 at 2:31

There is no problem with everyone supporting the system, because everyone benefits from it. Public education was pushed to the forefront in this country in the 1830s. The Industrial Revolution was in its infancy, but early industrialists already knew that there was a burdensome demand for a properly trained and educated work force.

Old people whose property tax dollars are funding public education benefit from an educated public, even one as mediocre as ours. Bill Gates benefits from public education. Hell, even Dick Cheney has benefited from public education.

Public education fought & won two world wars, built an interstate highway system, and put Americans on the moon. An educated public, even at public expense, is what separates us from serfdom. The cost of mass ignorance is far more expensive than the price of public education.

By: frodo on 10/26/11 at 2:51

...and slavery built the Pyramids, and a religious sect built Salt Lake City, and George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein and Booker T. Washington were homeschoolers. I don't care if public school cured warts. It is just one option of many.

By: madridia on 10/26/11 at 4:27

I have said this before on this forum and I will say it again: I went all the way through Davidson County public schools, and so did my siblings, without grave consequences. All of us are well-educated, successful, tax-paying home owners. I will not stand by while Nashville's schools are slandered. Sure, some of them have problems, but these are entirely fixable if the citizenry will support fixing them. I would rather send my children to Davidson County schools and then actively work to fix the problems they encounter than be part of the problem by draining the coffers of public education for my own, personal, short-term gain.

And, frodo, you always have the option of homeschooling or sending your child to private schools or parochial schools. But that is a personal choice you have to make within your own household and your own bank account. Giving tax-payer money to institutions that discriminate (in other words, which are not providing a public good), is unjust and in the long run will be extremely harmful. No one is taking an option from you; but as in any purchase, you have to accept the conditions of the choices you make. In the case of private school, that is a choice to spend over and above what all citizens are expected to contribute to public education. That is your personal choice.

Schools only account for about 20% of children's learning. Most outcomes are based upon home life and family income. And within that 20% of outcomes that schools can control, one of the biggest predictors of student achievement is the amount spent per student. Vouchers will ultimately worsen Nashville's public schools by reducing the amount spent per student. There is no way to argue that vouchers will benefit Nashville schools, or even most of Nashville's children, unless we follow them with a hefty tax hike to cover the difference.

By: madridia on 10/26/11 at 4:35

Which I assume most of this discussion board would be against.

By: BellevueBill on 10/27/11 at 6:35

I’ve been listening to this argument since school busing. We will never go back to neighborhood schools so middle class Nashville if you do not like your school system your only recourse is the same as it has always been: Move to another county.

By: madridia on 10/27/11 at 7:00

BTW, frodo, Albert Einstein was not homeschooled. He attended a Catholic elementary school and then the Luitpold Gymnasium.

By: macjedi on 10/27/11 at 7:48

GOOD. Private schools need to fund themselves. Let's try diverting some dollars from the wastes of money: our powerful road lobby for one. How many schools would 840's cash have helped?

Okay then.

By: frodo on 10/27/11 at 8:18

Okay Albert Einstein was an exaggeration. He was homeschooled for a part of his education. But, madridia, you say I have freedom of choice. Does that include freedom of choice with what happens to my tax money? Or is that freedom reserved only for those who want a public school monopoly? As history shows, monopolies get complacent and begin treating customers like children (even if they are parents). it becomes all about preserving the monopoly. We can't let anyone else share the tax revenue because it might spoil our monopoly, is what I am hearing. I have no doubt that you and your siblings turned out just fine going through public school. As you can no doubt tell, my 12 years of public school left me very screwed much so that I just can't see the logic in a monopolistic education system. So I'm going to trust in our Republic from of government to correct the situation.

By: madridia on 10/27/11 at 1:35

Dear frodo,
You have freedom of choice to do as you want in your personal life within the framework of the rule of law. And part of the rule of law is that our elected representatives decide where the tax money goes, not you or me individually.

So the answer is: no, you do not have the ultimate choice of how your tax dollars are spent, and neither do I. And that is a good thing. We are all equal before the law.

Now you have the freedom to try to change the law, by influencing your representatives to vote a certain way. But if the majority decides that vouchers are a bad idea (and very clearly, they are bad for the city as a whole, and will benefit only a select few) then you have to cede the point to the majority, and keep paying for your privilege out of pocket. There have been many occasions when political decisions and public spending have not been as I would personally "choose," but I am a citizen of a democracy, and that means that I do not always get my way, including with my tax dollars. It means I have the freedom to try to get my way, via elections, lobbying, volunteering, etc. But at the end of the day, American freedom is personal freedom within the rule of law. It never says anywhere that we get whatever we want whenever we want it. That is simply childish.

By: madridia on 10/27/11 at 2:29

Second point, frodo, is that the state is not a business. You talk of "monopoly," "customers," and "revenue," but that is simply not how the government operates. It is a service provider. It works according to a totally different logic.

Public schools are not competing with private schools. They are available to all and used by some. They are not a monopoly, they are a service. Like clean water -- we all have access to clean water, but you can choose to go out and buy bottled water. You could give people vouchers to buy water, but if they still can't afford it with the voucher, you will have some serious health problems on your hands pretty quickly. Like any government service, schools are as good and as strong as we, the public, will them to be (although, as I mentioned above, the root of poor academic performance is usually poverty, not the schools themselves).

You say: "We can't let anyone else share the tax revenue because it might spoil our monopoly, is what I am hearing." I am curious why you aren't hearing, "The public schools are available to my children regardless of whether I lose my job or whether my kids have severe learning disabilities. Isn't it great that my children have the opportunity for an education no matter what happens to me?"

Public schools are not going out of business because they are not a business. They can be overcrowded and ill-equipped, but this has nothing to do with the students or the teachers. It has everything to do with how much tax money we are willing to allocate to them. We ought to invest more, but this proposal will take away even more.

By: tv8527 on 10/28/11 at 12:27

Look life isn't fair,The world needs retail ppl as well as ditch diggers.Save the ones you can through the voucher program & let the rest work it out as best as they can...Which is whats gonna happen anyway by maintaining the status quo.

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