Big 4 School Systems Oppose Kelsey Voucher Bill

Legislation to set up a school voucher program for the first time in Tennessee has been revised by its lead sponsor while the state’s biggest school systems — including Knox County — are launching a lobbying effort against it.
Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, sponsored a voucher bill that passed the Senate last year, but failed in the House. In a news release, Kelsey said he is filing a new and revised version of the “Equal Opportunity Scholarship Act” (SB2135) for the 2012 legislative session.
The revision adds what Kelsey describes as an “accountability measure” that will require some testing of student performance lacking in the original proposal.
Data from other states shows similar programs have improved student performance, Kelsey said.
“This train is moving. It’s time for Tennesseans to jump on board,” he said.
As with the previous version, the bill applies only in Knox, Davidson, Shelby and Hamilton counties and only to children eligible for free and reduced-price lunches.
According to Kelsey, for a family of four, that would include students in households with incomes below $42,000 per year. The scholarships would be in the amount of half the money that state and local school systems spend on each child — $5,400 per year in Memphis City Schools, $4,200 in Shelby County Schools, $5,400 in Nashville Schools, $4,600 in Chattanooga Schools and $4,300 in Knox County Schools.
The Knox County Board of Education last week unanimously approved a resolution calling for defeat of the voucher legislation, according to Indya Kincannon, former chair and now vice chair of the board. Other systems are likely to act on similar resolutions soon.
“Taxpayer dollars should stay in public schools rather than go to private schools that can pick and choose their students and may or may not be teaching them things that are appropriate,” said Kincannon.
She said the Knox County board believes a voucher program would be a distraction to major reform efforts already under way across the state and “would undermine public confidence in public schools when we are poised for huge improvements.”
Further, she said, private schools that would receive funding through the proposed program lack accountability. She said the accountability provisions in Kelsey’s bill are “nebulous and unclear about who is going to check up on them.”
The Coalition of Large School Systems, which includes the Knox County system as a member, has retained the Southern Strategies Group to lobby against the measure, with Robert Gowan as leader of the firm’s efforts. The coalition also includes school systems in Davidson, Hamilton and Shelby counties. In Shelby, the city and county school systems were recently merged.
Kinncannon said Knox County provides $25,000 toward paying the lobbying fee.

Note: Contrary to the original post, the Knox County School Board vote on the resolution was not unanimous. Board member Cindy Buttry cast a no vote.

2 thoughts on “Big 4 School Systems Oppose Kelsey Voucher Bill

  1. Eric Holcombe

    “Taxpayer dollars should stay in public schools rather than go to private schools that can pick and choose their students…”
    Uh, you mean like McDonald’s gets to pick and choose who buys their hamburgers? AND their customers are also forced to buy a Hardee’s thickburger they don’t get to eat.
    I’d like for the taxpayer dollars to stay in the taxpayer’s pocket.
    Here are some current tuition numbers from local Knoxville privates (averaged for K-12 years):
    Berean Christian – $5900
    Grace Christian Academy – $6592
    First Baptist Academy (Powell)- $4900
    Knoxville Christian – $6200
    Paideia Academy – $6054
    Concord Christian – $5656
    These are all brick-and-mortars too. Not virtual Bill Bennett K12 Inc. charters like Union County will be getting. Maybe the Big Four need to explain why they are spending 30-50% more – or for that matter, all of ’em. The state system average is $8773.
    Why should taxpayers keep paying 50% too much to protect the public monopoly?

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