Every single year, in a legislature that meets in Nashville, one issue rises from the ashes again and again. That issue: Vouchers.
This year, there are multiple school voucher proposals and just about all of them will be up for consideration in the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday.
Here’s a rundown of the bills and what they would do:
SB161/HB126 – Senator Brian Kelsey/Rep. Harry Brooks
This bill would create a pilot voucher program in Shelby County. Voucher advocates have been pushing some version of a statewide voucher program for the past four years. So far, they haven’t been successful. Now, they are trying to limit the plan to Shelby County to start in hopes they can garner additional votes.
SB380/HB336 — Sen. Todd Gardenhire/Rep. Bill Dunn
This is the voucher bill that has failed the past four years. It would allow students from districts with at least one “priority school” to apply for a voucher.
SB573/HB715 — Sen. Dolores Gresham/Rep. Debra Moody
This bill would expand eligibility to the failing IEA voucher program. Despite claims of widespread demand for this program, so far, only 39 students have taken these vouchers.
SB987/HB1109 — Sen. Kelsey/Rep. John DeBerry
This bill would also change (expand) eligibility for the IEA vouchers. It would allow students who had not previously attended public schools to obtain this voucher.
SB395/HB460 – Gresham/Rep. Roger Kane
This is an Education Savings Account (ESA) bill with no eligibility restrictions. This bill would allow the parents of any student to convert their BEP funding into a debit card or have the money wired into a checking account to use for approved education expenses.
Here’s the deal: Vouchers don’t work. The recent evidence is clear. Here’s what I wrote last week after reading recent research on the issue:
Some state policymakers (State Rep. Bill Dunn, State Senator Brian Kelsey, Governor Bill Haslam) are asking taxpayers to invest in a voucher scheme. These advocates suggest that a voucher program can provide a path to better outcomes for students. However, the results of statewide programs in three different studies indicate just the opposite: Vouchers offer a path to dismal achievement.
Tennessee lawmakers should take a look at the evidence. Vouchers just don’t work. In fact, they harm the very students voucher advocates claim to want to help. Instead of funding voucher schemes we know don’t get results, the state should focus on funding existing programs that will enhance education for all students.
Despite overwhelming evidence that vouchers fail, expect the voucher wars to wage just as hot this session — and next week.
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