Momentum building to buck Haslam’s voucher bill for 'very expansive' one

Wednesday, February 27, 2013 at 9:58pm

Support for the governor’s school voucher plan is developing into a showdown as lawmakers from both chambers say they’re itching to expand the program beyond Bill Haslam’s wishes.

State Sen. Brian Kelsey, who is a long-time advocate for a wide-ranging taxpayer-funded school vouchers system, is sponsoring the governor’s small-scale bill. He told members of the Senate Education Committee Wednesday night he has a plan ready for a “very expansive” program.

“I’d love to see a statewide bill, but I’m certainly open to discussions on the matter,” he told reporters after the meeting. “We certainly want to help as many low-income children as we can possibly help.”

Vouchers, also known as “opportunity scholarships,” would allow certain students to pay private school tuition using taxpayer dollars. Kelsey, R-Germantown, said his greatest concern is limiting a program to students from failing schools.

Haslam’s proposal would limit the program to low-income students from the worst 5 percent of schools. A half dozen of those schools sit in Nashville and most of the rest are in Memphis.

Haslam told reporters Tuesday he is standing by his proposed voucher program, but wouldn’t say whether he would pull support if the scope of the voucher bill changed.

“I always hate to give ultimatums on things, but like I said, we’re going to be very clear to everyone that we’re for our bill,” he said.

The Senate easily approved an expanded voucher program last time it came before the body in 2011. That legislation faced stiffer resistance in the House of Representatives and eventually died there.

House Speaker Beth Harwell, who is closely aligned with the governor, has said she is “not sure” on vouchers and prefers supporting public education. Rep. Bill Dunn, who is sponsoring the governor’s bill in the House, is also eager to offer up an expanded voucher program but told The City Paper he would hold off until assured there are enough votes to support it.

A recent poll shows a “statistical dead heat” in public support for the governor’s voucher program, with 46 percent opposed and 40 percent in favor, with a 4-percentage point margin of error. The survey from Middle Tennessee State University showed 12 percent of Tennesseans did not know where they stood and the remaining 2 percent declined to answer.

19 Comments on this post:

By: govskeptic on 2/28/13 at 8:00

I would predict a very small number of the Republicans will go against the
Governor's plans for this program. Expansion this early would be a mistake.

By: Rocket99 on 2/28/13 at 8:21

I have a problem with giving my tax dollars to a private school for public education. Historically, private schools do not have the same requirements for teachers as do public schools. Many times, the teachers have no license to teach. They also usually are paid less than their public school counterparts. Not saying they are not good teachers, just that the requirements are different.

One main advantage of several private schools is the class size is a lot smaller than public schools which better allows the theachers to give better individual help as needed. So, if we could effectively reduce the class size in public schools, that would solve part of the problem.

What happens if the student(s) become a disciplin problem? A lot of private schools answer to students like that is to show them the door.

Also, I have a BIG problem if the private school is religous based. Young children do not need to have religous views, which mak be contrary to their family's, forced upon them.

By: BigPapa on 2/28/13 at 8:37

If you are well off and politically connected it would be a great time to start up a series of schools that charge the state funded minimum. Put one in as many strip malls as possible rake in the dollars.

By: amoobrasil on 2/28/13 at 8:38

There should be no expansion at all. Public monies should be spent solely on public schools, not to subsidize corporate money-making enterprises.

Corporations exist to make money. Period. Outreach to the neediest in society is not profitable unless government pays generously for such outreach. Unifying communities is costly and of no interest to Corporate America.

It is less expensive and more effective to rely on public institutions run by taxpayer-elected representatives. Only when the public has a stake in improving public schools are these schools improved. Private schools enable people with the means to do so to divorce their personal interests from the public good.

By: Loner on 2/28/13 at 8:46

This is another Christian scam to hose the low-information taxpayers. This is a clear violation of the separation of church & state doctrine; but in Coonskin Cap Country, the local yokuls are born-again theocrats...they do not see this as a conflict of interests at all...they see it as a mission from give praise, honor and glory to his only begotten son....Jesus of Nazareth....Alleluia!

By: thereitis on 2/28/13 at 8:47

The last time they jumped all the way in the deep end it was with unlimited virtual schools. From what I am reading that is among the lowest performing schools in the state. Maybe a more modest approach on this is wise. I support education reform and don't want to see something similar to the virtual problem in this area. I want vouchers to work and if they have to go a bit slow I'm OK with that.

By: JeffF on 2/28/13 at 9:12

Loner the Supreme Court has already ruled in an Ohio(?) case that it is legal to use tax-supported vouchers at private and parochial schools. In other words, they were not able to see the words "separation of church and state" anywhere in the constitution or any of the amendments.

So, does this mean Ohioans wear coonskin hats and yokel out?

By: on 2/28/13 at 9:41

Everybody KNOWS that vouchers as well as excessive number of charter schools would diminish the effectiveness of public schools.

Most people recognize this a way to get a private school type educations paid for by tax dollars.

Too bad for the poor children or the special needs children, because for them it will be tragic as funds continue to be diverted to help those who do not need any help.

Long-term results from charter school studies do NOT show the overwhelming success being suggested by supporters. Vouchers are even worse.

By: pswindle on 2/28/13 at 10:10

The TN GOP has gone completely nuts. The Haslam Administration from day one, has tried to destroy public education starting with unions, and the unreasonable evaluation of teachers. They have been itching to get their hands on public education money. I would like to know the whole story behind this grab for money. I hope TN wakes up. TN is becoming a third country state. Gov. Bredesen pulled this state out of doom, but he did not take away our rights.

By: GoodieTwoShoes on 2/28/13 at 10:34

So, they don't have the thing passed yet and are already salivating for more? How are these for profit charters and public schools going to exsist on the same dollars?

By: BigPapa on 2/28/13 at 11:48

" has tried to destroy public education starting with unions,..."

Good. Unions stand in the way of real education reform, the courts are the other.

if you had a magic wand and could get rid of two things, you would improve public schools dramatically.

1. busing

2. tenure

By: GoodieTwoShoes on 2/28/13 at 2:12

So, could something like this be coming our way?

By: BigPapa on 2/28/13 at 2:31

Id be fine with a teachers strike if the school could hire new teachers and start over.

By: BigPapa on 2/28/13 at 2:31

they could strike and end up like those fools at Peterbuilt.

By: JeffF on 2/28/13 at 2:56

I sure would hate to see those fine schools in Memphis and here get destroyed. They are doing such a great job raising the bar for the rest of Tennessee's schools. As someone said here a week or so ago, the single greatest factor in good education and we is diversifying the other people in this state into a muddy spot.

By: think on 2/28/13 at 3:07

To all of the people who think public education is the answer... haven't we tried that for a hundred years or so? We all know that socializing an industry has never in history produced exceptional results. Why can't people see public schools for what they are? Socialized bureaucracies that have failed for decades despite us pouring billions into the effort. Public funding for private institutions is the only way to improve student outcomes.. and this is a suitable step towards that goal.

By: mg357 on 2/28/13 at 3:35

mg357...What part of private schools will not accept vouchers don't people understand. Ramsey gave a figure of $5400 bucks that won't touch private tuition. Most private schools are privately funded thru for example, the Church of Christ and others. Unless I've missed something here, folks do not want religion taught in any way to their children unless they are invested in these institutions. The taxpayers, {property owners} would file class action lawsuits to stop such a move and rightfully so. Massive tax dollars are spent on free public education which is a right. When one chooses private education they choose to pay tuition and therein lies the major problem. They do not want their kids in public schools for good reason.Go ahead and open this can of worms and face a discrimination lawsuit out of this world and the outcome will not change. If you choose private, then be ready to pay for that choice. That kind of education is not now nor ever will be a right unless you're going to pay yourself. The courts will eat your lunch if this madness continues, trust me on this one. Taxpayers have rights too, remember that. What I've said may come across as cruel but it's true. What's happening right under your noses now is discrimination when 7 of the 9 charters are predominantly black and aren't diverse in any way, think about this before you get in over your heads.

By: pswindle on 2/28/13 at 6:41

Mayor Dean just passed a property tax for public schools. What will happen now? Will we get our money back? There was nothing said about giving public money to private schools.

By: mg357 on 2/28/13 at 8:07

mg357..pswindle. sometime ago there was a hue and cry for more pre-k in Nashville. I think it's a pretty common opinion that pre-k is worthless except for babysitting purposes. When I voiced this opinion they literally burned me at the stake but, they had no clue what was coming and of course the property tax raise bombshell hit. They stopped crying then and started raising cain. People should be very careful what they wish for, they might get it. As for getting your money back, forget it and pray they don't raise something else. My thoughts on using public money for private education are spot on, they do not want to go there.