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School Vouchers in Tennessee: Closer to Becoming an Inadequate Reality

April 23, 2019

On April 23, 2019, the Tennessee house voted to approve school vouchers (aka “education savings accounts”). The same day, the state senate finance committee had already passed a version of the voucher bill, with the senate finance committee’s version being restricted to Nashville and Shelby County Schools. The full senate has yet to vote on the measure, then, if the senate bill passes, both house and senate need to hash out a final bill.

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee, who really wants to bring school vouchers to Tennessee, chose to amend his proposed budget to include $916,000 worth of vote-changing enticements to freshman congress members, as the April 23, 2019, Tennesseean reports:

A USA TODAY NETWORK-Tennessee review of Lee’s latest budget proposal shows several lawmakers who were once against or on the fence about the governor’s controversial education savings account legislation received funding for their requests.

The lawmakers identified in the review include freshmen Reps. Charlie Baum, R-Murfreesboro; Scott Cepicky, R-Culleoka; Clay Doggett, R-Pulaski; Tom Leatherwood, R-Arlington; and Chris Todd, R-Jackson.

In total, the governor has proposed fulfilling the requests from the group of freshmen lawmakers to the tune of $916,000.

Lee wants school vouchers, and he is on the way to getting his wish. What could go wrong?

Well, as much as Lee wants to take public funding and send it to private schools in the name of “choice,” the reality is that parents cannot simply take the $7,300 per student from the public school system and have that amount clearly cover a year of education at a Tennessee private school, as the Tennessean also reports:

Gov. Bill Lee’s controversial school voucher program would provide parents up to $7,300 to leave an urban district with failing schools — including in Nashville.

But even with that money, many families may be hard-pressed to find and afford a private school option. The education savings account program would apply only to families in a lower-income bracket, and the money from the state may not cover the full cost of tuition at many private schools. …

Among the 57 schools surveyed, there are 17 Nashville private schools with tuition that could be covered entirely by the $7,300 a year that would be provided to parents.

Now, keep in mind that when it comes to instituting school vouchers, it is the private schools that really have the upper hand of “choice”; no legislation can require a private school to participate in a school voucher program. So, even though there are at least 17 nashville-area private schools where $7,300 would cover tuition, that does not mean that there are at least 17 Nashville-area private schools that would choose to do so.

It is also possible for private schools that accept taxpayer money in the form of school vouchers to expunge difficult students via discipline policies designed to retain The Right Kind of Student.

Finally, enterprising individuals eyeballing all of that $7,300-per-kid potential could well open some more economical, storefront private schools– or better yet, virtual private schools– in the name of Saving Students from Failing Schools. Those students might well receive a sketchy non-education, but at least it will be a con perpetrated in the name of school choice.

The Tennessee voucher saga continues to unfold, but already it holds the same promise as does walking through a field of cow patties after dark in your best shoes.

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Interested in scheduling Mercedes Schneider for a speaking engagement? Click here.

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Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

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Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

3 Comments
  1. Laura H. Chapman permalink

    The Tennessee voucher saga continues to unfold, but already it holds the same promise as does walking through a field of cow patties after dark in your best shoes.

    Perfect image in words and picture.

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  1. Mercedes Schneider: Vouchers in Tennessee Moving Forward to a Worse Education | Diane Ravitch's blog

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