A statement from the Dan and Margaret Maddox Fund on Governor Bill Lee’s voucher plan:
Since 2008, the Dan and Margaret Maddox Charitable Fund has been partnering with nonprofit organizations that are working to improve the lives of young people in Middle Tennessee. Core to our values is knowing that education and knowledge are transformative. Understanding this as an education funder, we feel that Educational Savings Accounts (ESAs) will be a detriment to ensuring that all children can access high-quality educational opportunities.
Educational Savings Accounts would divert funds away from public schools and the students that need them.
Tennessee currently ranks 45th in the nation for public spending on education. Allowing these already scarce resources to potentially go to private institutions through ESAs would place a greater strain on our currently under-funded public schools. ESAs would not be made accessible to all students. Out of the 145,000 students living in low-income households across the state, only 5,000 would receive an ESA in this first year. Requirements for documentation would also bar some of Tennessee’s most vulnerable students from these educational opportunities. The $7,300 provided by ESAs may not fully cover the tuition for students to attend private schools and does little to address the multitude of other barriers that families face like transportation.
Accountability and measurement are important for making sure that education programs are truly making an impact. Maddox asks its nonprofit partners to be able to demonstrate their success, but studies on ESAs and similar voucher-based interventions have shown that they have little impact on student achievement and are less effective than other programs in addressing attendance and graduation rates. There is little accountability to the students accessing ESAs. Students attending private schools will not be held to the same academic assessments. There are also no provisions to ensure that English language learners, students with Individual Education Plans, or those with special needs are not discriminated against in the admissions process.
ESAs will only make educational opportunities available to a select few and without any oversight, would potentially further disparities for our state’s low-income communities.
For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport