Tag Archives: voucher

Legislator Comments on Voucher Proposal

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam on Monday proposed a limited school-voucher program for students from poor families who attend failing schools. The program would be capped at 5,000 students this year and grow to 20,000 students by 2016. Here are some responses to the proposal:
“I think he has made it clear that it is a very limited program for failing students in failing schools. … One of the things I respect about the governor is that it’s part of his trademark to phase it in.” — House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville.
“I know that this year there’s going to be an effort by the press and others to say there’s a fight and Republicans aren’t getting along and things like that. There are differences of opinion, but in the end I think we’ll pass a bill that’s good for the state.” — Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, who favors a broader approach.
“The way he rolled it out today, I like it. Eat an elephant, as the saying goes, a bit at a time.” — House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada of Franklin.
“Everyone is for a school of choice. But … what size voucher, who gets it? (What’s the) impact on public education? The devil is more in the details on vouchers than almost any topic we discussed tonight.” — Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle, D-Memphis.
“We’re making significant gains in what really counts, and that’s student achievement. And continuing the focus on that important work was as important to me as any new program that was announced.” — Jamie Woodson, president and CEO of the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, or SCORE.
“We all are interested in education, no question about that. I think he spent the most time of his speech on that. I just have a little different philosophy about the use of public money for private schools on the vouchers.” — House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley.

Haslam Will Have a Voucher Bill, After All

Gov. Bill Haslam said today he will push for enactment during this year’s legislative session of voucher system that would be limited to lower-income students in the “lowest-performing schools.”
Haslam said there will not be an administration bill on a “statewide authorizer” for charter schools, though he expects legislators to propose such a law and will work with them on fashioning details. Such a law would set up a state authority to approve charter schools even when a local school board refused to approve.
Haslam’s announcement came after a joint appearance with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush for a discussion of education reform. Bush said his initial efforts at both a voucher system and a “state authorizer” were approved by the Florida legislature, but later declared unconstitutional by the state’s Supreme Court.
Florida subsequently adopted a voucher system funded by corporations, which receive a dollar-for-dollar tax credit for money they put into the system and Bush hailed it as a success. Haslam said his Tennessee system would not follow that model for funding.
The governor said his Tennessee proposal would be “means tested and focused on the lowest performing schools.” He said further details would be made public later.
The state Senate passed a voucher system that would have applied in Tennessee’s four largest counties – including Knox – in 2011. But the bill never passed the House after Haslam asked lawmakers to wait while he set up a task force to study the issue.
Until today, Haslam has said he was undecided whether to put forth his own bill on vouchers – proponents call them “equal opportunity scholarships,” a label Bush said first used in Florida – or simply let legislators introduce a bill, then react to it.

‘Parent Trigger’ Bill Joins Vouchers, Etc., in Push for Education Legislation

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Legislation that would allow parents to decide the fate of a struggling school is among several education-related proposals lawmakers are likely to discuss during the 108th Tennessee General Assembly that convenes Tuesday.
Officials have made reforming education a top priority since Tennessee became one of two states to first receive federal Race to the Top funding about three years ago. Lawmakers expect to take up more proposals this year, including so-called parent trigger legislation, creation of school vouchers, reshaping online schools and boosting community colleges.
The parent trigger measure has drawn national attention since parents in California stepped in to turn around a failing school there and the state’s Supreme Court upheld their actions.
Brent Easley, state director for the Tennessee chapter of StudentsFirst, a national grassroots movement to reform school systems across the country, said a sponsor is being sought to introduce Tennessee legislation that’s similar to California’s proposal. (Note: StudentsFirst’s PAC made about $427,000 in donations to Tennessee campaigns last year, by the Commercial Appeal’s count.)
Under the proposal, if 51 percent of parents at a school in the bottom 20 percent of failing schools believe that a drastic change is needed, they can then select from several “turnaround models.” For instance, they may want to convert it to a charter school, change the administrators or just close the school.

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Gov Receives Voucher Task Force Report (nothing decided)

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.”

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Nashville, Memphis School Boards Oppose Voucher Bill

(Note: Expands, updates previous post)
Following in the footsteps of Knox County, and perhaps aligning with Tennessee’s two other largest school districts, Metro Nashville Public Schools went on record Tuesday urging the state legislature to reject legislation accommodating vouchers that would divert public funds to private schools. So reports The City Paper.
“I don’t think it’s the proper way for our children in the Metropolitan Nashville public school system to go,” school board chair Gracie Porter said of a voucher system she contends would subtract public dollars from the classroom.
The Metro Nashville Board of Education unanimously approved a resolution Tuesday to oppose voucher legislation like the one state Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) has vowed to reintroduce, which would create what he calls “Equal Opportunity Scholarships.” Such scholarships, totaling half the amount the state and school districts spends on a student, would be available for students to attend independent, private or religious institutions. The formula equals $5,400 in Metro.

Previous post HERE.
Meanwhile, the unified Memphis-Shelby County school board also voted to oppose the Kelsey voucher plan, according to the Commercial Appeal.
Board member Diane George cast the lone no vote, saying she was a person who believed in relationships and wanted to invite Kelsey to discuss the issue with the board.
“I offer that we sit down and talk to him and maybe come up with something that is going be a better bill if we just sit down and communicate.”
… “I am concerned that it will look like we cannot take a position. I hate for them to see Memphis and Shelby County as ambivalent when we are two-fifth of the coalition of large urban districts,” said board member Betty Mallott.
“I hate to leave them standing at the door.”
Board member Tomeka Hart wrapped up the discussion by saying she had had several conversations with Kelsey on the bill.
“It keeps coming, so I don’t think there is any interest in talking,” she said, pushing board members to vote for the resolution. “This is taking public dollars and going to private schools and we can do nothing about it. If charters don’t do certain things they can be closed by state law, but there is nothing we can do with private schools.
“People say we shouldn’t do this resolution because we don’t know the bill,” she said, adding that whatever the bill turns out to be it will take money from the public schools.

Big 4 School Systems Oppose Kelsey Voucher Bill

Legislation to set up a school voucher program for the first time in Tennessee has been revised by its lead sponsor while the state’s biggest school systems — including Knox County — are launching a lobbying effort against it.
Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, sponsored a voucher bill that passed the Senate last year, but failed in the House. In a news release, Kelsey said he is filing a new and revised version of the “Equal Opportunity Scholarship Act” (SB2135) for the 2012 legislative session.
The revision adds what Kelsey describes as an “accountability measure” that will require some testing of student performance lacking in the original proposal.
Data from other states shows similar programs have improved student performance, Kelsey said.
“This train is moving. It’s time for Tennesseans to jump on board,” he said.
As with the previous version, the bill applies only in Knox, Davidson, Shelby and Hamilton counties and only to children eligible for free and reduced-price lunches.
According to Kelsey, 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 — $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 Knox County Schools.
The Knox County Board of Education last week unanimously approved a resolution calling for defeat of the voucher legislation, according to Indya Kincannon, former chair and now vice chair of the board. Other systems are likely to act on similar resolutions soon.
“Taxpayer dollars should stay in public schools rather than go to private schools that can pick and choose their students and may or may not be teaching them things that are appropriate,” said Kincannon.
She said the Knox County board believes a voucher program would be a distraction to major reform efforts already under way across the state and “would undermine public confidence in public schools when we are poised for huge improvements.”
Further, she said, private schools that would receive funding through the proposed program lack accountability. She said the accountability provisions in Kelsey’s bill are “nebulous and unclear about who is going to check up on them.”
The Coalition of Large School Systems, which includes the Knox County system as a member, has retained the Southern Strategies Group to lobby against the measure, with Robert Gowan as leader of the firm’s efforts. The coalition also includes school systems in Davidson, Hamilton and Shelby counties. In Shelby, the city and county school systems were recently merged.
Kinncannon said Knox County provides $25,000 toward paying the lobbying fee.

Note: Contrary to the original post, the Knox County School Board vote on the resolution was not unanimous. Board member Cindy Buttry cast a no vote.

Kelsey Revises Voucher Bill

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.

School Voucher Bill Shelved for the Year in House Sub

A Senate-passed school voucher bill, which would apply in the state’s four largest counties, was abandoned for the year Wednesday in a House subcommittee.
Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, brought the bill, SB485, before the House Education subcommittee Wednesday afternoon, describing it as a means to assure that children from low-income families have “the opportunity to attend a school that meets their own needs.”
But after Dunn’s description of the measure, a recess was called. Reportedly, Republican members of the panel were summoned during the recess to a meeting where House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick called for shelving the bill for this year.
When the panel returned, Rep. Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland, made the motion to postpone any action until next year and instead relegate the measure to “summer study.” The motion was endorsed by Education Committee Chairman Richard Montgomery, R-Sevierville, and approved unanimously by voice vote.
The bill, as it passed the Senate 18-10 last week over objections of all four impacted school systems, would allow half the taxpayer money spent per student to be given to private or church schools where the student’s parents chose to move him or her. It would apply, at least initially, to students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches at school because of low family income.
“We’ve done a whole lot (in education reform) this year and I think some people just want to take a deep breath,” said Dunn afterwards.
He said the study would allow ample time to address concerns expressed about the measure. Those have centered on contentions that passage of the bill would drain much-needed resources from public schools.

Senate Passes School Voucher Bill, 18-10

Reported by Richard Locker:
The state Senate today approved a school voucher bill that allows lower-income students to take half of the taxpayer money spent per pupil in their school district – about $5,400 per year in Memphis and $4,300 in Knox County — to any private, church-sponsored or other independent school that will accept them.
As written, the bill will initially apply only to students whose household income qualifies them for free or reduced-price school lunches, and only to students in Tennessee’s four largest counties: Shelby, Davidson, Knox and Hamilton. School districts in all four counties, including Memphis City Schools, opposed the bill.
Today’s 18-10 Senate approval of SB 485 is the first time a school-voucher bill has been approved by either Tennessee legislative chamber. The House Education subcommittee is scheduled to review the bill next Wednesday, and to become law, the bill must also pass the House of Representatives. (Added Note: Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey predicted it will pass there, 7-6.)
Its Senate sponsor, Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, calls the measure the “Equal Opportunity Scholarship Act” and declared on the Senate floor today that it’s a “windfall” for school districts because they retain half of the per-pupil expenditure from state and local taxpayers for each student who leaves.
But Democratic Sens. Roy Herron, Dresden, and Andy Berke, Chattanooga, disputed the “windfall” assertion, arguing that virtually all the fixed costs of educating students – buildings, utility bills, school buses, teachers — must still be paid if students leave. Kelsey’s bill as originally drafted directed 95 percent of the per-pupil spending to follow the student but an amendment reduced it to 50 percent.

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