News release from governor’s office:
NASHVILLE – Gov. Bill Haslam today received a report from the Task Force on Opportunity Scholarships, outlining recommendations for a potential program to expand educational options and improve achievement for low-income students in Tennessee.
The report comes a year after Haslam appointed the nine-person Task Force–made up of state education leaders, legislators and representatives from public and private schools–to consider a program to offer publicly funded scholarships for low-income students to offset tuition costs at participating schools in Tennessee.
The Task Force was not meant to evaluate the merits or disadvantages of a scholarship program. Instead, members spent months studying the public and private education landscape in Tennessee, as well as opportunity scholarship programs in other states, to determine potential design elements that would best fit within the broader context of the education reform work taking place in Tennessee. The report outlines various options for the governor’s consideration.
“I want to thank the members of the Task Force for the time and effort they spent researching and deliberating what an opportunity scholarship program could look like in Tennessee,” Haslam said. “I look forward to reviewing the Task Force’s recommendations ahead of the upcoming legislative session.”
A state task force charged with devising an ideal plan allowing parents to enroll their students in private schools on the taxpayer’s dime is still largely divided on the best way to go about it, reports The City Paper.
At the group’s highly anticipated final meeting, the Opportunity Scholarship Task Force struggled to agree on the specifics of a program it plans to recommend to Gov. Bill Haslam to consider pitching to lawmakers next year.
“It’s not a question of if we have more time, then we’re going to come up with the perfect solution,” said Kevin Huffman, commissioner of the state Department of Education.
“It’s a question of there are different potential options and there are pros and cons to all of them, and ultimately the General Assembly and the governor have to decide what they think,” he said.
Huffman declined to say whether or not the state should pursue a voucher program, which allows parents to send their students to private school using public tax dollars. Huffman said his job is to lay out the options and would not offer the governor further recommendations than what is in the report.
News release from Senate Republican Caucus:
(NASHVILLE, TN), October 11, 2011 – State Senator Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) today announced he will push passage of legislation to give low income students in Shelby, Davidson, Knox, and Hamilton counties an “Equal Opportunity Scholarship” to attend the school of their choice. The education reform measure is the 2nd in a series of announcements by Kelsey in his “12 for ’12” initiative, a list comprised of 12 bills he will introduce for the 2012 session of the Tennessee General Assembly, which begins in January.
“Equal Opportunity Scholarships provide impoverished children with hope for a better education and choice in the school they attend,” said Senator Brian Kelsey. “Children should not be forced to attend a failing school just because they live in a certain neighborhood. Equal Opportunity Scholarships will allow all children to receive the quality education they deserve.”
Senate Bill 2135, filed today, is similar to Sen. Kelsey’s bill that was approved by the State Senate in April. The House Education Subcommittee decided to study the bill further before acting on the bill in January. Kelsey said the main difference in the new bill is the addition of an accountability measure to ensure that schools receiving the scholarships will be measuring academic success. He added this provision in response to suggestions from many community voices.
“The bill is gaining new supporters every day,” said Sen. Kelsey. “I look forward to passing this legislation through the House of Representatives next year.”
Senate Bill 2135 applies to students who are eligible for free and reduced-price lunch in the four largest counties in the state. 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, which amounts to $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 Knoxville Schools. The scholarship money could be used to attend any school that parents choose, including parochial schools, independent schools, or other public schools within the district if space is available.
In the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, students receiving the scholarship graduated at a rate 12-20% higher than those low-income students who lost the lottery to receive a scholarship. Also, twenty-one of the twenty-two empirical studies of the effects of opportunity scholarships on public schools have shown that public school student scores increase 3-15% when opportunity scholarships are offered.
“We now have solid data from other states showing this program works to significantly boost student achievement,” added Sen. Kelsey. “That’s why so many other states are now passing this law.”
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett is set to release his version of the bill for that state later today. A similar bill was enacted in May in Indiana, and huge expansions of the program passed earlier this year in Wisconsin, Ohio, Florida, and Washington, D.C.
“This train is moving. It’s time for Tennesseans to jump on board,” concluded Sen. Kelsey.