Task force lays out options for school voucher plans

Thursday, November 29, 2012 at 8:27pm

Recommendations on how best to let parents send their children to private schools using taxpayer dollars are leaving lawmakers with major decisions to make when writing the ideas into law.

A study by the governor’s Opportunity Scholarship Task Force released on Thursday offered legislators recommendations but stopped short of offering many concrete solutions. Factors such as implementing the program statewide and exclusively to children from low-income families are two points lawmakers would have to decide on if they choose to push forward with a school vouchers program next year.

Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman, who chaired the task force, said, “Their serious consideration of this project helped ensure we were able to offer recommendations for the governor, motivated by our shared goal to improve educational outcomes for all students in Tennessee.”

Last fall Gov. Bill Haslam charged the nine-member panel with serving up an ideal program to offer students vouchers to attend the private school of their choice for no cost out of their pocket.

Lawmakers had debated for the last few years the merits of adopting a voucher program, but the governor told them to hold off in 2012 while the group studied Tennessee’s options. However, the group was not asked to evaluate the merits of a voucher program.

The entire report can be found here.

For months, the task force members have debated the scope of a potential Tennessee voucher plan. Some insist vouchers should be offered to students from low-income families who do not already attend a private school, to students at failing schools or to all students. Members also discussed whether to confine the project to a pilot program focused in the state’s four major metropolitan counties where more than a third of the state’s private schools are located.

In the end, the task force offered light recommendations Haslam can use when deciding whether to mold a voucher program he could offer the legislature or to allow lawmakers to craft a program themselves, which he would weigh in on.

“I do think it’s just blatantly unfair that we doom children to failure simply because the ZIP code they’re born in. And their parents, if they choose, ought to have that choice,” said Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, who said he would stack the Senate Education Committee with “the votes to get something like that out.” The Senate easily approved a voucher proposal in 2011.

Ramsey said he sees the task force recommendations as a starting point for the legislature, adding the program shouldn’t be limited entirely to low-income students or the major metropolitan areas.

“I think we can hash out those problems like that,” he said, adding he would go along with starting a program on a smaller scale if that’s the only option the General Assembly has to pass the legislation.

The task force made several hard-and-fast recommendations in the report, including that private schools should meet certain criteria before the state allows them to accept vouchers; taxpayer funds included in the voucher should operate in place of the full private school tuition; and students should have the option of not only attending private schools but other public school districts, even across county lines.

The task force also said participating private schools should have to administer state- or national-level tests to students using vouchers to keep schools accountable for student performance.

According to the report, more than half the private schools that responded to a survey said they would not participate in a voucher program if the state required them to issue the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program testing. Only 16 percent of schools surveyed administer the TCAP, while 64 percent of schools require their students take some sort of national test.

But there were several disagreements on a potential program that Haslam and lawmakers will have to wade through, including determining the ultimate goal of the program. While the task force recommended the goal be to improve student outcomes, some argued it should also be to provide parents choice.

Aside from those issues — not to mention deciding on how to fund the scholarship — other major issues the task force said it was split on include: whether to focus energy only to low-income students or also to those from poor-performing schools; whether to limit the program as a pilot in Davidson, Shelby, Hamilton and Knox Counties or launch statewide; and whether to implement the program as early as next school year.

Metro, Memphis and Hamilton County school districts all have charter schools, providing some levels of choice, while Knoxville is poised to open its first charter school next year. While in some cases the task force found the school choice options adequate, it concluded current choices did not meet families’ needs.

8 Comments on this post:

By: pswindle on 11/29/12 at 8:22

This task force and administration have lost thier minds. If you offered some vouchers and others who struggle to send thier children to private schools withourt a voucher, you will restart the Civil War in the great state of TN. Will you ask Harpeth Hall and MBA to open their doors. They would not stand for it for one minute. Do you have $25,000 a year for these schools? Surely, you have too much time on your hands.

By: ancienthighway on 11/29/12 at 9:37

I'm against public monies, that is tax dollars, being paid to for profit or non-profit private institutions. A common argument of supporters of sending children to private schools and having the tax dollar support it is that the public school should not be getting their tax dollar since they don't use the school. Guess what. Money is allocated to public schools based on enrollment, not on the number of school eligible children there are in the district. You aren't paying more taxes.
What will happen with a voucher system or any other system where tax dollars are diverted to private schools is budget shortfalls will pop up somewhere with more revenue needed or more budget cuts to pay for it.

I don't have any school aged children, but I don't object to my taxes being used to help pay for public education. I do object to potential tax increases to pay for private education though.

By: KENW on 11/30/12 at 8:21

Vouchers for everyone, not just a targeted few. Metro Nashville school board showed they are against school choice outside of their system when they voted down Great Hearts. Students and parents deserve better.

By: Rocket99 on 11/30/12 at 8:42

Are they going to try and force all private schools in teh state to participate or will they have a choice? Transportation is anther question.

The bottom line is, the Republicans don't like public schools and don't want to fund public schools. They are all about private everything.

Do people realize why most of the private schools were originally created? It was because white people didn't want their little darlings to be forced to go to schools with "those" kids. I know that today some of the private schools are more diverse because they are looking for revenue sources.

Some of the private schools have very high academic standards and some of the children involved, regardless of race, for whatever reason would struggle to even try and reach those standards.

This will also place a higher burdon on the state and local budgets. Where is all the extra money going to come from? I for one do not want to be forced to pay higher taxes because students are going to a private school on a voucher.

Why do they not look at truly investing in public education instead of always trying to cut the education budget?

By: Jughead on 11/30/12 at 11:39

It doesn't matter. America is devolving into a self-absorbed, medicated, and utterly uneducated heap of entitlement.

Only a catastrophic event will right the ship. Until then, most Americans prefer to watch Kim Kardashian sex tapes.

By: d4deli on 11/30/12 at 12:19

Jughead, I'm afraid you speak the truth. We have "value added" scores to look better in the numbers game, we test and teach to the test, and students learn to recite instead of think. We medicate and vegetate, and manners and common decency is rare to be found. I am afraid that all this is beyond repair, but then, some of us read the good Book, and we already know the end.

By: Badbob on 12/3/12 at 4:29

Private schools do not take kids with problems. Of course they perform better with no special education kids. Taking money from public schools which have to work with every kid, no matter what their problem is would be unmitigated disaster.

By: RustyACE on 12/4/12 at 9:11

Dear Andrea,

It's quite funny how you have been reporting on this issue all year, and leave out all of your previous reports on this important topic.

The Argument: Parents will take their money and send their kids to schools that the state has no control over is not good.

This argument is stupid. Why would I, as a parent, take my child from a wonderful public school that is performing and my child is learning, and then send him to some po-dunk redneck private school. This defeats all logic on your part. If the private school isn't teaching my child, I then send them back to the public school, or any other school that I choose.

I just paid my Property Taxes for 2012. It's all broken down into which category all of the taxes were charged. Almost 70% of Davidson County Property Taxes are funneled to the Schools and our Kids. This means that in every neighborhood as you drive through them and see homes, every home owner/ property owner is paying for the public school system DIRECTLY out of our pockets.

The Simple Solution:

You offer parents 50% of what Davidson county (or they county that they live in) is spending per child (approx $8000 per student, so half of that would be a voucher for $4000).

This voucher would then be worth that exact amount (half of the $8000 in this example).

The parent then goes and finds the best school for their child. The voucher subtracts $4000 from the cost of the Private School (or school that the parent has chosen).

The other half of the Voucher $4000 (goes to the public school that the child would have attended).

So in conclusion: So for every child that a parent moves to another school, the public school still gets half of the amount that they would have gotten anyway. Then, you have reduced class size, and more money to improve the public school.

If a public school suddenly finds itself with fewer students, then the remaining students can have more teacher time/ classroom time, and more resources.

The parents that have chosen to move their child now feel in control of their child's education, and you and I both know that proactive parents are what we want when it comes to educating our children.

When you start using the word "Fair” we both know fair is just a code word for Liberal control over whom the winners and losers are.

If parents want to send their child to a school that costs $25,000 per year, then they would have to come up with the remaining $21,000 to send their child there.

If they choose to send their child to a school that costs $8000 per year, then they'll have to come up with the remaining $4000.

So, of the 80,000 students in Metro Davidson County Schools, let's say that 30,000 of them elect to go elsewhere.

Those that choose to go to a different public school, the money is a wash, you take $4000 voucher and hand it to a public school and they get back their $4000.

So, let's say of the 30,000 kids… 10,000 kid’s parents make the choice to send their child to a different public school. In this example, public schools don’t lose or gain anything. It’s a net wash.

This leaves 20,000 student’s parents that take their voucher along with their child and go to a (non- public) private school.

20,000 students x's $4000 = $80,000,000 (80 Million Dollars) that is going to be sent to Public Schools to TEACH ZERO Students, and $80,000,000 that is funneled to the school that the parent chooses.

What would Public Schools do with an extra $80 Million Dollars to teach kids that don't exist in their schools anymore? Or, what would a public school do with an infusion of $80 million dollars with the responsibility to teach fewer students?

Maybe smaller class sizes? Hire Better Teachers? Offer advanced education to make the public school better than any private school that could ever exist? You see, a funny thing happens when a public school suddenly becomes the best school, parents want their child to attend there.

Vouchers are the best thing that has ever happened to those that pay taxes and have kids that go to school. It gives us control over our monies and allows us to choose what is best for our child.

If we don't care, leave them where they are.

This is a Win/Win/Win for the Public Schools, Parents and Private Schools.

There is NO downside to letting parents have Choice/ and a Voice with their Voucher Dollars.

So, Andrea, in final thought, instead of towing the Liberal Democratic line on this topic, why don't you actually do some reporting, and find out what would work best for the kids, instead of just being a cliché that you are becoming.

Sincerely,

RustyACE
Madison, TN 37115