Voucher Task Force Recommendations Due This Month

A “task force” appointed by Gov. Bill Haslam is supposed to draft final recommendations this month on how a Tennessee school-voucher program should operate, reports Richard Locker.
The “Governor’s Task Force on Opportunity Scholarships” held its fourth meeting Wednesday and although differences among its members continue, its chairman, state Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman, made it clear that the panel’s charge from the governor is not to debate whether to have a voucher program but rather how a program should operate — its legal parameters — if lawmakers create one.
Key issues include when to launch a program; whether to put family-income limits on participation; whether to limit participation to students from low-performing public schools; the size of the “scholarships” — the amount of public money diverted to private schools per student; whether to start a program on a limited, experimental “pilot” basis in a few districts; whether to allow for-profit private schools to participate; and what kind of accountability measures should be put in place, if any, for the private schools accepting the public money.
In addition to limiting eligibility to low-income students, the bill senators approved in 2011 would have limited the program initially to Tennessee’s four largest counties, Shelby, Davidson, Knox and Hamilton, on a trial basis. School districts in those counties have formed a Coalition of Large School Systems, which has opposed vouchers because they divert public funding away from their districts and to private schools.
Advocates of vouchers say they promote school choice by allowing students from low- and moderate-income families to attend private schools that will accept them.
Despite the governor’s assignment for the task force, he said he’s still not sure if he will fully support a voucher plan. “A lot of it depends on what it looks like,” he said
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