Knoxville Chamber challenges Wall Street Journal editorial

The Knoxville Chamber took a shot to the jaw Friday on the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page over the school voucher issue. But the chamber is slugging back.

The editorial — “Tennessee’s Chamber Maids” — chastises the Knoxville, Chattanooga and Nashville chambers of commerce for siding “with the teachers unions to kill education vouchers.”

Knoxville Chamber CEO Mike Edwards said the Journal completely mischaracterized the chamber’s position on the voucher bill. And the newspaper is wrong about the status of the bill.

The editorial is referring to a proposal considered by the Tennessee Legislature that would provide students of poor-performing public schools vouchers to help pay for a private school education.

Here’s what Edwards said in a phone interview:

— The chamber has not conspired with the teachers union to kill the bill.

— The bill is not dead. By unanimous vote, the House Education subcommittee referred the bill to summer study and it very likely will be reconsidered next year.

— The chamber opposed the original bill largely for the lack of accountability.

“The bill as it is does not hold the schools — private and parochial — to the same accountability standards that the public schools are required to meet,” Edwards.

Before taxpayers money is given to private schools, taxpayers should be assured that private schools will be held accountable to the public, Edwards said.

It’s likely that an amended voucher bill “that cures those objections will come forward” and if it does, the chamber membership will consider supporting it, Edwards.

The editorial also takes a shot at chambers for accepting state and local public funding. “The Tennessee chambers aren’t nearly as opposed to public money going to private institutions when they receive the checks,” the editorial says.

It’s not surprising that the Journal would wax indignant over opposition to a school voucher bill — its a favorite hot-button issue for radical conservatives.

But it makes me wonder, just who in Tennessee convinced the paper this particular editorial was a good idea.

Here’s a link to a snippet of the editorial. You will need a WSJ subscription for the complete editorial.

Here’s a link to the voucher bill.

Read the Chamber’s letter to state Legislators.
HB388 Letter.pdf