The Tennessee Democratic Party and state Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge, are stepping up a war of words over the freshman lawmaker’s voting record, with Democrats now saying Ragan is “in the pocket” of the school voucher lobby, reports Bob Fowler.
In a news release, Chip Forrester, the chairman of the state Democratic Party, blasts Ragan for supporting private school vouchers.
Ragan said he wasn’t going to respond to “every lie leveled by the Obama shills at the Tennessee Democratic Party.”
Ragan in June received what Forrester said was Ragan’s largest contribution — $5,000 — from Students First. That education reform group “pushes for school vouchers,” Forrester said. He said vouchers amount to “a tax break for wealthy Tennesseans” while diverting money from public schools.
Ragan said the group is nonpartisan and has been praised by both the Bush and Obama administrations as well as Governors Bredesen and Haslam.
Forrester said a voucher program could provide around $7,000 for families to spend on private school tuition, but many private schools charge much more, “leaving poor and working families a choice only on paper.”
“John Ragan has agreed with his corporate and political bosses every time they propose a new method to weaken public education in Tennessee,” Democratic Party official Jason L. Huff said.
Ragan said he has supported “measures like paying our teachers better and offering parents more choices.”
“Unlike my opponent, I do not believe the status quo is good enough, especially when it comes to our kids,” Ragan said in response to the Democratic criticisms.
Ragan is running for re-election Nov. 6 and is opposed by Democrat Jim Hackworth of Clinton, who Ragan unseated in 2010.
Note: Below are warring press releases from the two parties on the Hackworth-Ragan contest.
News release from House Republican Caucus:
NASHVILLE, TN – State House District 33 candidate Jim Hackworth has been on the defensive lately as voters have begun to ask him serious questions about his former voting record. Voting records reveal the former representative has a long history of supporting tax increases, runaway spending, and a larger, more intrusive government.
“The voters rejected Jim Hackworth two years ago because his record of supporting big government came to light,” said House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick “I urge the voters to once again look seriously at Jim Hackworth’s history of supporting reckless, Washington DC-style policies that are sending this country down the wrong path at an alarming pace. John Ragan knows less government and lower taxes will bring jobs and prosperity to Anderson County.”
McCormick continued, “The people of Anderson County know Jim Hackworth is completely out of touch. Supporting job-killing legislation, sending tax dollars to Planned Parenthood, and voting against a bill that stood up to Obamacare are just a few examples of Jim Hackworth’s liberal record.”
Specifically, over Hackworth’s six years in office, the state budget grew by nearly $10 billion. In contrast, John Ragan voted to cut the state budget by nearly 2 percent this year. And while Hackworth voted to raise taxes by almost $250 million, Ragan voted for more than $130 million in tax cuts. Tax cuts versus tax increases, pro-life versus taxpayer-funded abortion, and pro-job legislation versus job-killing regulations. Anderson County’s choice couldn’t be more clear.
News release from Tennessee Democratic party:
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – State Rep. John Ragan’s support for private school vouchers could break the backbone of the middle class: Tennessee’s public schools.
“John Ragan’s support of private school vouchers amounts to a tax break for wealthy Tennesseans and it’s paid for by diverting millions away from the schools our working and middle class families rely on,” said Chip Forrester, chairman of the Tennessee Democratic Party. “Instead of handing out vouchers of false hope that fail to even cover the cost of tuition at many private academies, we should renew our commitment to student achievement by strengthening the schools we have, keeping class sizes small and empowering great teachers.”
Currently school districts in Tennessee get a set amount of funding for each student enrolled. In general terms, a new voucher program could provide parents with a coupon worth around $7,000 to spend on tuition at a private school — though the private schools could still reject their child’s application. One of Gov. Bill Haslam’s top education deputies says the trouble is many private schools in Tennessee cost double or triple the value of the voucher, leaving poor and working families a choice only on paper.
“Ragan’s support for private school vouchers looks like virtual schools 2.0, another multi-million dollar waste of our tax dollars that punishes our children and rewards special interests,” Forrester said. “If we want our children prepared to compete for the jobs of the future, we cannot afford to waste one more dollar on unaccountable schemes that defraud taxpayers and shortchange our children’s future.”
In June of this year Ragan accepted a $5000 contribution from Students First, an education reform group that pushes for school voucher programs in a number of states. The donation was the largest from any of Ragan’s contributors.