Vouchers a Hot Topic in Legislative Races

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam says he expects the question of using taxpayer dollars to fund private school vouchers will be a major issue in the General Assembly come January, reports Andy Sher.
But the horses already are out of the barn in several Southeast Tennessee legislative races where a full-fledged debate over vouchers is under way.
Some Republicans argue vouchers are necessary to advance school-choice initiatives already under way with public charter schools.
Democrats counter that any redirection of funding undermines support of public education, which they say is already too little.
Republican Rep. Richard Floyd, whose District 27 includes Red Bank and Signal Mountain, fully supports vouchers.
“Anything that we can do to give these kids a better shot at getting a better education we need to try,” Floyd said. “It may not work. If it doesn’t, we can come back and reinvent the wheel.”
Frank Eaton, Floyd’s Democratic opponent, has serious reservations about vouchers.
“I don’t think they’re in general a great idea,” Eaton said. “If our public schools were properly funded, we wouldn’t be faced with so many failing schools. We need to focus on making sure there’s a good public school available for every child.”
…House District 30, Rep. Vince Dean, R-East Ridge, said the state “should explore some ways to include some vouchers and hopefully do so without making a large impact on the school systems.”
It would be “far better to have a pilot project than to go statewide with it right off the bat,” said Dean. State officials could use a pilot program to evaluate vouchers’ effectiveness.
His Democratic opponent, Sandy Smith, a retired Hamilton County teacher, said a voucher program is “taking more money away from public education.”
…Fault lines on vouchers often cut along partisan lines. But a number of Republicans in rural areas are lukewarm on the issue.
In the seven-county Senate District 16 contest, which includes Marion, Sequatchie and Coffee counties, Democrat Jim Lewis, of Kimball, is staunchly anti-voucher. Vouchers and any number of education initiatives passed or proposed by the Republican-led General Assembly amount to “outright theft from public schools,” he said.
“We haven’t funded public schools adequately in the first place, and if your design is to destroy public schools, then you find a way to suck more money out of them,” said Lewis, a former state senator.
Republican Janice Bowling, his opponent, is a former teacher who home-schooled one of her children for several years. Vouchers and other education initiatives often spring from “perfectly noble ideas and hopes,” she said, but end up as “kind of knee-jerk, ‘we’ll do this and this to fix it,'” responses, Bowling said.
“I haven’t had the opportunity [to look into vouchers] to see what the unintended consequences might be or what the benefits would be. I can see both sides.”

One thought on “Vouchers a Hot Topic in Legislative Races

  1. Eric Holcombe

    “If our public schools were properly funded, we wouldn’t be faced with so many failing schools.”
    Oh please. Ok, Eaton, what’s the magic number to guarantee academic success? We’ll give you the Andy Berke grace period of nine months to make it happen and then begin to plead to yank all funding and scrap the school system altogether.

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