Amy Frogge on Vouchers

Nashville school board member Amy Frogge talks about a key vote on Governor Bill Lee’s voucher plan — a vote scheduled for Wednesday, March 27th.

HEADS UP, everyone! THIS IS IT. Vouchers will be up for a key vote this coming Wednesday, March 27th, at 8 am in the full House Education Committee, and this is our best chance to stop them in Tennessee. IT IS SUPER IMPORTANT THAT WE ACT NOW.

Here’s information on the bill: HB 939/SB 795 would create a new form of vouchers in Tennessee called Education Savings Accounts (ESAs). ESAs have been described as “vouchers on steroids.” This proposed legislation is targeted not toward “children trapped in failing schools,” but toward wealthier families, with virtually no regulation or public accountability. Vouchers would be available in any district containing at least three schools in the bottom 10% of schools in the state, but vouchers would be made available to ALL students in that district, including those enrolled in high-performing schools and private schools. Families making up to around $100,000 per year would be eligible for the voucher, and private schools would not be required to accept the voucher as payment in full. This means that more affluent families with children already enrolled in private schools could use the voucher to help offset their current payments for private school. It will also allow students to cross county lines with their vouchers, which could wreak havoc on many rural school districts.

Local school districts will have to pay for the bulk of these vouchers. (For example, in Davidson County, the state would pay only about $3,600 toward the cost of the voucher, while Davidson County would be required to pay about $8,100 per voucher.) On top of this, the state would withhold a 6% management fee for the voucher program. The governor has claimed that a limited amount of funding will be available to school districts to help offset the cost of the vouchers for three years, but this money could be revoked at any time- and worse, vouchers will create ongoing recurring costs that school districts will be unable to cover for an indefinite period of time.

Once the door to vouchers has been opened, it cannot be shut. Under this legislation, vouchers would become an entitlement for upper middle class private school parents and homeschool parents.

HERE’S HOW YOU CAN HELP:

1. We need as many people as possible to attend the hearing. It will be in House Hearing Room 1 of the Cordell Hull Building.

2. Contact members of the committee NOW, and encourage your friends to do so. (Obviously, constituents of these members will make the greatest impact.)

Mark White, Chair 615-741-4415
rep.mark.white@capitol.tn.gov

Kirk Haston, Vice Chair 615-741-0750
rep.kirk.haston@capitol.tn.gov

Debra Moody 615-741-3774 rep.debra.moody@capitol.tn.gov

Charlie Baum 615-741-6849 rep.charlie.baum@capitol.tn.gov

David Byrd 615-741-2190
rep.david.byrd@capitol.tn.gov

Scott Cepicky 615-741-3005
rep.scott.cepicky@capitol.tn.gov

Mark Cochran 615-741-1725
rep.mark.cochran@capitol.tn.gov

Jim Coley 615-741-8201
rep.jim.coley@capitol.tn.gov

John DeBerry, Jr. 615-741-2239 rep.john.deberry@capitol.tn.gov

Vincent Dixie 615-741-1997 rep.vincent.dixie@capitol.tn.gov

Jason Hodges 615-741-2043
rep.jason.hodges@capitol.tn.gov

Chris Hurt 615-741-2134
rep.chris.hurt@capitol.tn.gov

Tom Leatherwood 615-741-7084 rep.tom.leatherwood@capitol.tn.gov

Bill Dunn 615-741-1721 rep.bill.dunn@capitol.tn.gov

Harold Love, Jr. 615-741-3831
rep.harold.love@capitol.tn.gov

Antonio Parkinson 615-741-4575
rep.antonio.parkinson@capitol.tn.gov

John Ragan 615-741-4400
rep.john.ragan@capitol.tn.gov

Iris Rudder 615-741-8695
rep.iris.rudder@capitol.tn.gov

Jerry Sexton 615-741-2534
rep.jerry.sexton@capitol.tn.gov

Kevin Vaughn 615-741-1866
rep.kevin.vaughn@capitol.tn.gov

Terri Lynn Weaver 615-741-2192
rep.terri.lynn.weaver@capitol.tn.gov

Ryan Williams 615-741-1875
rep.ryan.williams@capitol.tn.gov

John Mark Windle 716-741-1260
rep.john.windle@capitol.tn.gov

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

Bill Lee’s BEP Lies

Is the BEP fully funded? Bill Lee wants you to think so. A recent Tennessean story calls this issue into question, however. Taking into account the reality of the BEP is more complicated, but the bottom line answer is this: No, Bill Lee’s budget does NOT fully fund the BEP and he and his staff should know better.

The Tennessean points out that despite new investments from Governor Haslam and now Governor Lee, educators are not happy with the adequacy of the state’s funding formula.

There is good reason to be concerned. For example, Tennessee is now investing less per pupil than we did in 2010:

To translate, in 2010 (the year before Bill Haslam became Governor), Tennessee spent an average of $8877 per student in 2016 dollars. In 2016 (the most recent data cited), that total was $8810. So, we’re effectively spending slightly less per student now than in 2010. The graph indicates that Tennessee spending per student isn’t really growing, instead it is stagnating.

It’s also worth noting that our teacher salary increases aren’t matching national averages:


Average teacher salaries in the United States improved by about 4% from the Haslam Promise until this year. Average teacher salaries in Tennessee improved by just under 2% over the same time period. So, since Bill Haslam promised teachers we’d be the fastest improving in teacher pay, we’ve actually been improving at a rate that’s half the national average. No, we’re not the slowest improving state in teacher pay, but we’re also not even improving at the average rate.
By contrast, states like California and North Carolina have seen increases of over 9% over the same time period, making them the two fastest improving states. Vermont is close behind at just over a 7% total increase.

While talking about teacher salaries, it’s important to note the BEP does NOT fully fund teacher pay and in fact, funds a level far below the actual average cost of hiring a teacher:


As for teacher compensation, the state pays 70% of the BEP calculated rate — which is now $46,225. The good news: That calculated rate has been increasing in recent years. The bad news: That rate is still $7000 LESS than the average teacher compensation paid by districts in the state.
What does this mean? It means districts have to make up a big difference in order to maintain their level of pay. As one example, Nashville is struggling to pay teachers on par with similar cities nationally. Based on current BEP formula allocations, funding teaching positions at the actual average rate would mean MNPS would receive an additional $21 million for teacher compensation. Those funds would certainly help close the pay gap that plagues the system.

Then, of course, there are unfunded or underfunded mandates. One example, RTI – Response to Intervention:


One possible solution would be to embed funding for school-level RTI2 specialists in the state’s funding formula for schools, the BEP. In fact, Rep. Joe Pitts offered legislation that would do just that last year. His plan would have added funding for three RTI2 specialists at each school for a total projected cost of $167 million. Commissioner McQueen was quick to shoot that idea down and came back this year with the funding proposal of $13 million, or one specialist per district. That’s only $154 million short of adopting a plan that would actually meet the needs of a program many suggest is an important way to improve educational outcomes for Tennessee students.

Our own Comptroller, a Republican, also indicates the state is significantly behind where it should be to adequately fund the BEP:


The Comptroller’s Office of Research and Education Accountability is out with a new report that suggests Tennessee is underfunding its schools by at least $400 million. That’s because the BEP (the state’s funding formula for schools) fails to adequately fund education personnel.

Finally, it’s worth noting that Bill Haslam created a fake BEP task force designed to let him out of the responsibility to adequately fund schools and then effectively froze BEP 2.0. In that sense, it’s actually inaccurate to say our state is “fully funding” the BEP. In fact, we’re funding “growth only” in a frozen formula. Facts matter. History is difficult, I know. But those talking about this issue would do well to cite the recent history in their reporting.

Enter Governor Bill Haslam. He appointed his own BEP Task Force independent of the statutorily mandated BEP Review Committee. At the time, I speculated this was because he didn’t like the Review Committee’s recommendations and its insistence that the state was at least $500 million behind where it should be in education funding.

Now, he’s proposing a “BEP Enhancement Act.” This so-called enhancement is sailing through the General Assembly. It is seen as the most likely vehicle to get money to rural districts and in a year when education funds are increasing, why sweat the details?

As I’ve written before, a few districts lose significantly in the move because it eliminates the Cost Differential Factor (CDF).

It also freezes BEP 2.o. Gone are the dreams of full funding of this formula. The law makes permanent the 70% state funding of BEP-generated teaching positions and funds teacher salaries at a rate well below the state average salary.

Someone should tell Bill Lee and legislative leadership about this. They keep going around repeating the lie that the BEP is “fully funded.” The truth is quite different. I suspect Lee’s staffers know the reality, and are just not telling him. Alternatively, they don’t know the facts — in which case, they don’t deserve their jobs.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

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Testing Flexibility

Tennessee state representative Terry Lynn Weaver (R-40) and Professional Educators of Tennessee Executive Director JC Bowman offer thoughts on the need for testing flexibility.

In Tennessee, we appreciate straight talk and candor. So, to the point: statewide testing has taken a wrong turn in public education, not to mention Tennessee has failed in our statewide testing administration since 2012. Now we are about to start over, possibly with a new vendor. There is no guarantee this will work any better than previous attempts.

At no point were any of the previous testing problems the fault of students or educators in Tennessee. The state has simply failed students, teachers, parents, and taxpayers. We understand mistakes are made by individuals, by companies, and even by our government. Clearly, there is a problem with testing in Tennessee. It is a flawed testing system, which could be addressed if we were to pilot innovative approaches that encourage our schools and their communities to work together and design solutions without bureaucratic hurdles. That would be a sensible strategy to pursue.

This is why some legislators have argued for allowing LEAs to use the ACT, ACT Aspire, or SAT Suites as a means of assessment. This request continues to be asked for by several high-performing districts across the state frustrated by state failures. We must also break down the bureaucratic barriers that have kept educators and school districts from pursuing solutions to the unique challenges of their communities. We should pursue reliable tests that provide accurate feedback for educators, parents, and students, or perhaps allow districts the opportunities to use these alternative assessments.

The current testing culture has killed the enthusiasm of many educators. No single test should be a determinant of a student’s, teacher’s or school’s success. Although we need testing to measure the progress of our students, we should recognize that these tests are often unreliable in evaluating teachers and schools. True measurement of progress should instead consist of several benchmarks, not just testing. However, testing goes beyond the purposes of entrance or placement into courses in postsecondary education or training programs.

With each testing failure, educators and districts have unfairly been the ones who bear the brunt, quite unfairly, of parental anger. Students also suffer, with everything from loss of instruction time to not understanding their educational progress. When we make education decisions on the basis of unreliable or invalid test results, we place students at risk and harm educators professionally. This is especially unfair to the hardworking teachers in our state.

We must listen to educators on the ground, and continue to champion innovation in public education. Educators want that chance to be inventive, and they understand the need to challenge the status quo to get results for the students in their community. Therefore, the state should not stand in the way of any LEA that wishes to use an alternative that is comparable to state-mandated assessment. The LEA should be required to notify parents or guardians of students that the LEA is using an approved testing alternative. In addition, the LEA, before using an approved testing alternative, should be required to notify the Tennessee Department of Education, in writing, of the grade level and subject matter in which the LEA intends to use an approved testing alternative. Senator Mark Pody and Representative Clark Boyd have proposed legislation (SB1307/HB1180) to allow districts this testing flexibility. It is similar to legislation that Senator Janice Bowling and Representative Terri Lynn Weaver have introduced previously (SB488/HB383).

High-quality assessments convey critical information for educators, families, the public, and students themselves and create the basis for improving outcomes for all learners. However, when testing is done badly or excessively, it takes important time away from teaching and learning and limits creativity from our classrooms. It is important that Tennessee improves postsecondary and career readiness for all Tennessee students. Flawed testing does not move us toward that goal. It is time we allow our districts the flexibility that they have requested.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

Unable to Verify

As TNReady prepares to start in a few weeks, more reassuring news from the Tennessee Department of Education.

Here’s the story, as reported by the Tennessean:


Tennessee education officials haven’t been able to verify if Questar Assessment, the state’s TNReady vendor, has the capacity to serve all test takers in the coming weeks. 


According to Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn, “flu and floodings” that impacted schools have prevented the department from running two verification tests ahead of statewide testing in April.
“We had one verification test and too many schools were closed, and we had another verification test and didn’t have enough schools because of flus and flooding,” Schwinn, who started her job in February, said. 

After a year of testing marked by hackers and dump trucks, it would seem the TNDOE would do more to ensure tests were ready this year. Or, even better, just take the year off and work to get testing “right” with a new vendor in 2019-20.

Instead, they push forward. So far, unable to verify the testing platform will work in spite of reports that practice tests aren’t always going so well.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

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Inconvenient Facts

As Governor Lee’s school voucher proposal begins its legislative journey today, the Tennessee School Boards Association (TSBA) is out with some key facts about the bill as it is currently constructed. These facts expose the plan for what it is: A large scale transfer of public money to fund unaccountable private schools. The plan fails to significantly address fraud and fails to hold schools receiving taxpayer dollars to the same standard as our state’s traditional public schools must meet.

Here’s more from TSBA:

EDUCATION SAVINGS ACCOUNTS (ESA)
This week, the the Administration filed Amendment 005240 to HB939/SB795 by Lamberth/Johnson, a caption bill, which is the Governor’s Education Savings Accounts (ESA) proposal. Click here to view the Amendment. There has been much speculation and reporting over the last several weeks about the details of the bill and we finally have the specific language. Some noteworthy provisions of the ESA bill are as follows:

  • Accountability. The accountability of participating ESA providers was a point of emphasis for many legislators. The Governor’s proposal only requires the ESA student to participate in annually administered TCAP tests for math and English language arts. There is no requirement for standardized or end-of-course testing in science, social studies, the Governor’s civics program, or the ACT, which is required in 11th grade. Public dollars will pay for education that is inconsistent with what the General Assembly has mandated of public schools. Recent emphasis on accountability has made Tennessee one of the fastest improving states in education. This ESA proposal abandons those efforts. 
  • Zoning. An eligible student must be zoned to attend an LEA with 3 or more schools among the bottom 10%. However, there is no requisite time period for the student to have been zoned in that LEA. It appears a student could move to a qualifying LEA and immediately be eligible for the ESA program. 
  • Postsecondary Funding. The bill defines a “legacy student” as a student who had graduated high school and has funds remaining in their ESA account. A legacy student can utilize the remaining funds for approved postsecondary expenses. This may create an unintended incentive for participants to minimize early education costs in order to save the funds for college. 
  • Approved Expenses. Among the approved expenditures for ESA funds are contributions to a § 529 college savings educational investment trust account. However, there is nothing in the bill that requires the student/parent to actually use the fund for college or that prohibits withdrawal from the college savings account. In theory, a parent could apply all ESA funds from K-12 (approximately $100,000) to a § 529 account, then decide not use the funds for college and pocket the money, subject to withdrawal penalties. 
  • Return to the LEA. A participating student may return to the LEA at any time, at which point, the ESA would be closed and any remaining funds returned to the state. However, there is no requirement that any balance remain in the ESA at the time of return. An ESA participant could use all disbursements up to that point (e.g. approved computer hardware or other technological devices) and return to the LEA without penalty, at which point the LEA bears the entire financial burden of educating the child for the remainder of the school year. 
  • Enrollment Limit. Enrollment is capped at 5,000 in the first year, but will triple to 15,000 by the fifth year and grow by 1,000 each year thereafter, assuming sufficient applications are submitted. The Governor plans to budget $25 million in each of the next three years to fund the anticipated first year of implementation in 2021-2022. It is difficult to image how this ESA program with a maximum enrollment could be funded in five years without significantly reducing the funds available for public education. 
  • LEA Reimbursement. The Governor’s proposal was reported to include a reimbursement model to compensate LEAs for loss of funds associated with ESAs. While the bill creates an annual grant to reimburse LEAs in the amount of BEP funds diverted to ESAs, it limits the reimbursement period to 3 years and restricts the use to school improvements. Following that 3 year period, the grant funding will go exclusively to priority schools. This begs the question, how are LEAs supposed to compensate for the loss of funding due to ESAs? There is no indication that any funding will be provided for the loss after year 3 of the program. 
  • Fraud Prevention. Other states with ESA programs have experienced rampant fraud. Some states only provide funds on a reimbursement basis after receipts are provided. The Governor’s proposal, on the other hand, requires the department to fund the ESA account at least quarterly and not on a reimbursement basis. The Department of Education is required to establish a fraud reporting service and may contract or conduct random, quarterly or annual review of accounts, but it is unclear exactly what monitoring and auditing procedures will ensure appropriate use of ESA funds. 

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Toward Testing Transparency

JC Bowman, Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, offers thoughts on testing transparency as the next round of TNReady approaches.

Thomas Jefferson believed: “The government closest to the people serves the people best.” We could not agree more. In Tennessee, our state agencies have a core function to serve the citizen’s interest, and protect our taxpayers to the benefit of the state. To ensure our school districts have aligned standards and instructional practices, we must have greater transparency in testing. Recently, Senate Bill 753/House Bill 1246 was introduced to address this critical issue.

This legislation, which we call the Testing Transparency Act, is common sense and is supported by both the Professional Educators of Tennessee and the Tennessee School Boards Association. The legislation will require the Tennessee Department of Education to release 50 percent of questions, with correct answers, from the TCAP tests of the 2019-20 school year, 75 percent of questions, with correct answers, from the TCAP tests of the 2020-21 school year, and 100 percent of questions, with correct answers, from the TCAP tests of the 2021-22 school year, to each LEA and public school. This proposed legislation will require these questions to be sent no less than 30 days after completion of TCAP tests.

That sounds simple enough, and it allows the state time to develop an adequate supply of questions. More importantly, it creates transparency in the system, and restores trust to the process. This importance is critical, if stakeholders are to have any faith in our testing system. By releasing the test questions LEAs can:

  1. Have informed discussions about a school or district’s curriculum.
  2. Allow educators to explore the links between concepts they teach and ways to measure students’ understanding.
  3. Permit districts and educators to design their own assessment according to their needs.
  4. Encourage districts and educators to reflect on the performance of their students in comparison to the performance of students in other schools and districts.

Accurate or not, tests have come to be viewed by the public as indicators of how well schools are educating our children. If this were the sole standard by which we measure success, then we have failed students, parents, and taxpayers—and especially our educators. Our state has spent an inordinate amount of time and money to test our students, without much to show for our efforts. It is time that changes, and the state must be willing to embrace this needed transparency.

The fixation by policymakers with increasing test scores, often overlooks the point that many policymakers, stakeholders and the general public do not really understand testing and/or the process. This helps lift the veil of secrecy, fosters needed discussion and helps us better measure what our educators teach.

If you believe in the importance of testing, your support of the Testing Transparency Act helps ensure that our public schools are not judged with the wrong assessment tools. If you do not support the Testing Transparency Act, you will be unable to bolster a case to create a different way of measuring school performance and support continued spending on statewide testing without having a chance to see the results. Senate Bill 753/House Bill 1246 is needed in Tennessee, and we encourage its passage.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

The War on Teachers

This piece from Chalkbeat describes education policy challenges in Indiana, but it could just as easily have been written about what has been and is happening here in Tennessee.

The story is based on a survey of school superintendents in Indiana. The school leaders are asked to talk about the challenges of finding and retaining teaching talent.

Here’s some of what they had to say:


Indiana’s war on teachers is winning


“Pay teachers more and offer better benefits. Respect the profession.”


“Overworked. Little or no pay raises in the past and none expected in the future.”


“The burnout rate increases because teachers are covering higher caseloads because of the shortage. Even when provided with an annual increase, overall morale of teachers in the state is low.”


The demands on teachers due to testing accountability makes it not worth teaching — takes the love and passion out of education.


“There is absolutely no incentive to stay in teaching or for that matter to pursue a degree in education. The pay is ridiculous. The demands are excessive. Teachers don’t really teach anymore, just test and retest. All the data-driven requirements are not successful in helping a student learn. Yes, we should have some testing but the sheer amount is ridiculous. I think we should go back to letting teachers teach. Let them be the professionals they were hired to be. ”


“There is a disconnect between what the state requires and what pre-service teachers are taught.”

If any of this sounds familiar, it should. Tennessee has been facing a growing teacher shortage for years now. As early as 2014, it was noted:

Since 2009, Tennessee has identified shortages in the overall numbers of K-12 teachers needed for public schools as well as teachers for specific subjects. There is a critical need in the state for STEM teachers, as well as shortages in high school English, social studies, world languages, Pre-K through high school special education, and English as a second language

In other words, state policymakers have been predicting a teacher shortage for a decade now and instead of adopting policies to address it, have adopted policies that in the words of some are “driving teachers crazy.”

We have a testing system that simply doesn’t work.

We offer salaries that don’t compare favorably to the private sector.

Our state’s schools are poorly resourced and the state funding formula is broken.

Now, our Governor and some legislative leaders want to divert public money to unaccountable private schools.

Ignoring the problem doesn’t make it go away. Ask Nashville, a district that has seen a rise in virtual classrooms as it struggles to fill teaching positions.

It’s no wonder some teachers are considering a strike as an option to get the attention of lawmakers who so far have ignored their pleas.

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Vouchers: A Lesson from Indiana

As Governor Bill Lee’s voucher legislation begins the legislative process this week with a hearing in a House Education subcommittee, this information from Indiana offers a word of caution. The voucher program in Indiana expanded rapidly and now results in a $154 million decrease in state funds available for public schools.

Here’s more:


Executive Summary
Growth in Indiana’s budget for public school personnel has not kept up with growth in its general fund or even inflation. Specifically, the current budget for public school personnel is almost $300M behind the 2009-10 budget when inflation is taken into account.


Vouchers are also funded from the budget for public school personnel. In 2018-2019, over $150M of this budget was utilized to fund Vouchers — with very little accountability.


The girls and boys attending Indiana’s public schools are currently educated utilizing a budget that is lagging by $450M.


Indiana’s General Fund (i.e., monies legislators control)


The Consumer Price Index (inflation rate) has grown by 16.71%
The Indiana General Fund has grown by 20.96%
K-12 Tuition Support Budget has grown by only 12.12%
Tuition Support funds nearly all personnel working in public schools
Considering inflation, but momentarily ignoring the impact of Vouchers, the Tuition Support Budget is $295,031,840 behind 2010 funding for the current school year


How Vouchers Work


Depending on family income, a qualifying child can receive a Voucher worth up to 90% of their local public school’s per student funding
Nearly 60% of voucher recipients have never attended a public school, but are now an additional cost taken from the Tuition Support Budget
Of the remaining 40%, the majority attended public schools for only one year before the Voucher program, but not the same year
The average public school student receives a little less than $6000, the average Voucher student receives $4258
The Voucher money is not taken from the local school, it is taken out of the Tuition Support Budget, (there is not a simple transfer of funds between the two schools) thereby decreasing the dollars for all public schools


Number of students’ educations funded by the tuition support budget


Public school enrollment during 2009-2019 is volatile, ranging from an increase of 3523 students in 2017-18 to a decrease of 4877 students in 2011-12
From 2010 to 2017, the US Census Bureau projects Indiana has lost 20,806 school-aged children. In that same period of time Indiana’s public and charter schools’ enrollment has only dropped by 6,158 from 1,036,839 students to 1,030,681 students.
There were 36,328 voucher requests in 2018-19
The 36,328 vouchers in 2018-19 result in a 3.41% increase in students to be funded this year


Impact on the amount of money allocated per student by Indiana


The Voucher Program decreases funding for all public school students
In 2009-10, the Tuition Support Budget allocation divided by enrolled public school students was $6,192
In 2018-19, the Tuition Support Budget allocation divided by only the enrolled public school students would be $6998, which is a 13% increase from 2009-10. However, the addition of Voucher students cut the average to $6,826 – only a 10.25% increase while the rate of inflation was 16.71%
This results in approximately $154 million taxpayer dollars spent to fund vouchers that could have been utilized for the benefit of girls and boys attending public school


Fiduciary Oversight


There is no fiduciary oversight by the state of the Voucher money
There are no requirements that keep Voucher taxpayer dollars from being used to enable the receiving organization to redirect its existing money for non-education purposes

Not only are vouchers costing Indiana taxpayers a lot of money, they simply aren’t getting results for kids.

Tennessee lawmakers would be wise to look at the impact of vouchers in other states. They’ll see a very expensive program that doesn’t get results.

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You Don’t Know, Jack

Despite being represented by top voucher advocate Jack Johnson, the Franklin Special School District is speaking out against vouchers. Johnson, best known for his poor math skills and penchant for hypocrisy, is taking the lead in pushing forward Governor Bill Lee’s “Education Savings Account” proposals. Education Savings Accounts, or ESAs, are simply a nicer way to explain the process of taking money from public schools and funneling it to unaccountable private schools.

The Williamson Herald has more:

The Franklin Special School District Board of Education approved unanimously, by consent agenda, a resolution opposing the governor’s Education Savings Account (ESA) proposal, or voucher program, that would use public education dollars to fund private school education.

During his first State of the State address earlier this month, Gov. Bill Lee-R, proposed state funding of an Education Savings Account (ESA), or voucher, program that would allow qualifying parents to use public school funds to enroll their children in a private school, or non-public entity.

In recent days, both Eric Welch and Brad Fiscus of the Williamson County School Board have made their opposition to vouchers known.

While no one should be shocked that Bill Lee supports efforts to dismantle our public schools by way of both vouchers and rapid expansion of charter schools, what’s suprising to me is the number of school board members I talk with who supported Lee. It’s difficult to square support of Lee with support of public education in our state. Lee made clear both during the campaign and by his past involvement in voucher efforts that he is a proponent of using public money to fund private schools.

I suppose some of these same school board members are voting in favor of resolutions opposing vouchers. Perhaps if voucher legislation passes, they’ll explain to their constituents why a local property tax increase is necessary not to support any improvements in what’s offered, but to make up for lost revenue due to an ever-expanding voucher school district.

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A Warning on Vouchers

Williamson County School Board member Brad Fiscus offers thoughts on vouchers.

During Tennessee’s State of the State address, Governor Bill Lee made it clear that privatizing public education would be a significant initiative of his legislative agenda. While he professed his support for public schools, he also laid out his plan to strip away funding from public schools.

The Governor’s plan proposes vouchers that would eliminate public accountability by channeling tax dollars into private schools or home school programs that do not face state-approved academic standards. Private schools do not publicly report on student achievement and do not meet the public accountability requirements outlined in major federal laws– including laws which protect students with special needs. Vouchers are an easy, yet ineffective “out” for our legislators– relieving our state leaders of their responsibility to provide oversight and accountability for public schools as demanded by our state constitution.

Governor Lee has promised to restrict his “Education Savings Accounts” (ESA) to use by students from low-income families from the lowest performing schools. These Education Savings Accounts or education scholarship accounts or individual education savings accounts or education scholarship tax credits are euphemisms for vouchers.

In Indiana in 2011, while now-Vice-President Mike Pence was Governor, vouchers were approved. Similar to Governor Lee’s proposal, Indiana’s program initially limited ESAs to 7500 students from low-income families in low performing districts. As of 2018, over 35,000 students now utilize taxpayer money intended for public education to pay private school fees. Indiana has spent a combined $685 million on this publicly-funded private-school experiment. However, a significant number of participating students were already attending private schools or participating in homeschool programs. What’s more, studies reveal these students are not improving academically. Voucher programs don’t work. Imagine the benefit if Indiana had invested an additional $685 million in its public schools, instead of subsidizing private schools.

Contrary to what proponents purport, voucher programs do not support parent and student choice. Instead of voucher programs providing options for parents and students, private schools have the chance to choose which students will be accepted, while public education districts are expected to provide a local system of free public education for all children.

Governor Lee’s misguided plan will undermine the very schools the State of Tennessee should be supporting. Until we address the socio-economic conditions that are predominant in neighborhoods where underperforming schools operate, we will not solve the issue of suboptimal school performance. We must invest in systems of support and training, such as mentorship and literacy programs, that have been proven effective with underserved children and youth, instead of taking financial resources away.

In Williamson County, a district with some of the highest performing schools in the state despite some of the lowest per-student funding, we’re being told by Senator Jack Johnson and House Speaker Glen Casada that “vouchers won’t affect us because we have strong schools.” We have been told we “shouldn’t be worried.” Why would the state’s top-ranked county want to ensure they are not affected if vouchers are good for public education?

If Indiana’s experience with vouchers is any indication, we can be sure this plan will affect Williamson County schools. Even if it doesn’t, shouldn’t we care enough about public education in other parts of Tennessee to prevent this program from happening there?

Tell your legislators and our Governor that vouchers are not welcome in our state.

Brad Fiscus is a veteran teacher, a leader in the Tennessee Conference of The United Methodist Church, and a member of the Williamson County Board of Education, the following Op-Ed is his personal views and does not represent the thoughts or opinions of Williamson County Schools or the Board of Education.

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