Haslam: Vouchers Should Be Based on Income; Not Just a Pilot Project

Tennessee lawmakers will almost certainly approve some kind of voucher bill in the upcoming legislative season, says the Commercial Appeal. And while Gov. Bill Haslam doesn’t know how broad it will be, he is not interested in a trial run.
“I don’t think it will start with a pilot,” Haslam said late last week. “To say we are just doing this in Shelby, Davidson and Knox …. I wouldn’t be in favor of that. I do think it should be income-qualified.”
…Haslam appointed a task force to study the issue a year ago. In its final report last week, the task force affirmed the need to limit vouchers to low-income children currently enrolled in public schools. Once they receive a voucher, the task force agreed they should have access to it until they graduate.
But other large questions, including how much vouchers should be worth, how the receiving schools will be held accountable and whether children enrolled in low-performing schools will get first priority are left now to be worked out by the Republican majority in the state legislature.
The leading proponent is Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Collierville. His bill, which passed in the Senate in 2011, would have made vouchers worth $5,400, or half what the state spent that year to educate one child.
He says vouchers should be funded the same way charter schools are to keep from “reinventing the wheel.” Memphis charters this year receive $8,065 in tax dollars per child.
“The task force agreed not to not require further funding from the parents,” Kelsey said. “For the few private schools in Memphis that do charge more than $9,000, they have said they will accept the students. Many of the schools that charge that much are already giving scholarships to students.”

Gail Kerr, meanwhile, declares in a column that the voucher task force raised more questions than answers.
A task force of nine people met numerous times over the course of a year, did massive research, wrote a 94-page report, and still couldn’t reach a consensus on how a school voucher system would work in Tennessee.
How in the name of Ned does anyone think the state legislature, with all its differing mindsets can do any better?
…Before lawmakers hash those out, they need to start at step one. Will school vouchers improve public education or undermine it?

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