This week is voucher week at the Tennessee General Assembly.
Yes, the voucher legislation has been scheduled for a hearing and vote in the House Finance Subcommittee. Should it pass that hurdle, it will be heard in the full House Finance Committee and then on to the House Floor.
Because the House has passed “Flow Motion” which suspends the normal notice requirements, all of this COULD happen this week.
Of course, the legislation could also fail at the committee level or be amended somewhere along the way.
But, whatever the fate of vouchers in 2015, it will likely be decided this week.
I’ve consistently written about or shared articles about why vouchers should be defeated. Vouchers are bad public policy – they don’t improve student outcomes and they do increase costs to taxpayers.
Here are some highlights of articles urging a rejection of vouchers:
Vouchers can be susceptible to fraud
A voucher program designed for Tennessee students with IEPs has been proposed and is modeled after similar programs in Florida and Arizona. The Florida program has been particularly susceptible to fraud and also keeps expanding, taking more and more public dollars with it to private schools of questionable value.
Vouchers mean big government expansion
Samantha Bates of PET argues that a voucher program would expand the scope and reach of government — purportedly the antithesis of what leading voucher proponents are seeking. She writes:
A voucher program will also inevitably lead to continued growth and power by the Tennessee Department of Education over local education. Vouchers will not eliminate or substantially reduce the state’s role in education, and it will take significant resources to oversee the program. If you like big government, this will increase the size and scope of the Tennessee Department of Education.
For some, vouchers are a means to eliminate public education. Looking at the argument for a moment, do we really want a massive system of government contractors, albeit private schools, approved by the state, who in turn will themselves lobby and demand larger subsidies? Vouchers will also likely drive up the cost for parents in private schools whose children do not use or qualify for vouchers.
Vouchers create accountability problems
The Tennessee School Boards Association makes several points about why vouchers should be opposed. Here are two key points they make:
1. Vouchers use your money to help pay for a student to go to a private school that answers to private administrators and not you the taxpayer. Public schools must answer to the people and are held accountable for the use of local, state and federal educational tax money.
2. Article XI, Section 12 of the Tennessee Constitution specifically states “The General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance, support and eligibility standards of a system of free public schools.” Nowhere in our constitution is the General Assembly directed to take taxpayer money and use it for a voucher system so parents can use public money to send their children to private schools.
Vouchers increase costs to taxpayers and could result in school closures
Here’s what I wrote about the Fiscal Note on the voucher bill — a Fiscal Note from the fantasyland world of the Friedman Foundation:
This analysis suggests two things: First, that the Fiscal Note assumptions about cost “relief” may be suspect and second, that the only way to gain true cost savings from a voucher program would be through school closures.
That’s right, to get true savings from a voucher program public schools would have to close. If they don’t, the cost shift noted in the fiscal analysis would mean increased costs to districts who then operate with decreased revenue.
Even some school choice advocates oppose vouchers
Jon Alfuth, publisher of Bluff City Ed and an advocate of school choice, and specifically, of adding more options for students by way of charter schools, says vouchers are the wrong way to go if you want to advance choice in a way that helps kids. He cites data from recent studies of voucher programs to note that they simply don’t improve student outcomes.
In 2010, the Center on Education Policy reviewed 10 years of voucher research and action and found that vouchers had no strong effect on student achievement. The most positive results come from Milwaukee County’s voucher program, but the effects were small and limited to only a few grades.
Finally, voters aren’t all that concerned about school choice.
A recent poll of Tennessee voters found that:
Additionally, the poll, conducted by GBA Strategies, found that voters ranked lack of school choice dead last among issues of concern on education. That’s particularly relevant given the advancing voucher legislation at the General Assembly.
Voters simply aren’t talking about or thinking about vouchers or other methods of expanding school choice.
It’s voucher week, and there are some very solid reasons why Tennessee legislators should be casting votes against vouchers this week. Here’s the bottom line: Vouchers don’t work to improve academic outcomes for students and they do cost taxpayers lots of money. If that’s not enough, legislators can rest assured knowing that voters aren’t beating down the doors begging for vouchers — probably because they haven’t worked elsewhere and there’s no reason to believe they will start working if they hit Tennessee.
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