The Voucher Tax

Will Tennessee lawmakers pass a new tax next year?

A recent analysis of the potential cost of school vouchers in Kentucky shows that Bluegrass State taxpayers could be on the hook for $199 million in year one – with those costs expected to balloon in subsequent years.

Which reminds me that the year one cost of Gov. Bill Lee’s universal voucher scam would cost TN taxpayers $140 million with estimates suggesting the cost of the program at full operation would be above $700 million.

Lee is actively campaigning for Republicans in primaries who support his new voucher tax. He’s also said he plans to try again next year to pass a universal voucher scheme.

In state after state, budget analysis demonstrates that vouchers essentially amount to a new tax – straining local budgets and draining state revenue previously directed toward public schools and other programs.

Arizona is one example – lawmakers there are struggling to patch a giant budget hole due to the budget drain that is vouchers.

Let’s be clear: School vouchers essentially create two school systems. Taxpayers are on the hook for both.

The public spends more, but gets less.

In the above example, Kentuckians would pay nearly $200 million more to educate the exact same number of students.

Lee’s plan would tax Tennesseans $140 million more in its first year and provide no improvement in service.

In Tennessee’s pilot voucher program – where students are required to take state tests – kids who used the vouchers LOST ground.

We’re paying more to lose.

Oh, and after nearly a decade of budget surpluses, Lee’s tax giveaways to the rich have begun to create a budget hole – some $500 million short this year.

Less state revenue, higher local taxes, and kids losing ground academically – that’s the result of the Bill Lee agenda.

Gov. Bill Lee promoting school privatization

Lee’s Voucher Loss

Governor fails to win approval of signature policy initiative

Gov. Bill Lee released a statement today admitting his signature legislative initiative, school vouchers, has failed for this session of the General Assembly.

I am extremely disappointed for the families who will have to wait yet another year for the freedom to choose the right education for their child, especially when there is broad agreement that now is the time to bring universal school choice to Tennessee.

Lee has long been an advocate of using public funds to support private schools.

Of course, the state already has a limited school voucher scheme operating in Memphis, Nashville, and Chattanooga.

Despite the likelihood of failure, policymakers rejected the idea of using funds earmarked for vouchers to fund other K-12 initiatives.

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Sumner Resolved

Sumner School Board passes resolution opposing school vouchers

The Sumner County School Board is asking its legislative delegation to oppose efforts to privatize Tennessee’s public schools by way of a voucher scheme.

The Tennessean reports:

The Sumner County Board of Education met in a special-called session last week to vote on a resolution against Gov. Bill Lee’s Education Freedom Scholarship Act.

Sumner County Board of Education officials approved the resolution in a 9-1 vote. Sumner County Board of Education Chairman Tim Brewer abstained from the vote.

It’s unclear whether some version of an expanded voucher plan will move forward this legislative session.

Earlier this week, the Senate Finance Committee rejected an attempt to use funds allocated for vouchers ($144 million) to instead fund an increase in teacher pay. That funding would amount to a roughly 5% raise for all teachers.

Gov. Bill Lee promoting school privatization

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Vouchers vs. Teachers

Lawmakers reject additional investment in teacher pay

Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee rejected a move that would have invested the $140 million+ allocated for Gov. Lee’s voucher scheme into an increase in teacher pay.

Sen. London Lamar proposed the budget amendment – suggesting moving money from a voucher plan that is unlikely to gain approval this session into additional investment in public schools.

“This amendment would take the K-12 education funding set aside for Gov. Lee’s school voucher program and reassign it to the K-12 student funding formula,” said Sen. Lamar. “There are so many needs our public school system has that this voucher money could be used for — one of which being teacher raises.”

The proposal failed on a party-line vote, with all nine Republicans on Senate Finance opposing the move.

crop man getting dollars from wallet
Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

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Throwin’ It All Away

Pro-voucher lawmaker wants to “blow-up” state’s “terrible” school system

Rep. Scott Cepicky made it clear that the motive behind Gov. Bill Lee’s signature public policy initiative, school vouchers, is tearing down the state’s public school system.

Nashville’s NewsChannel5 has more on Cepicky’s revelation:

The lead sponsor pushing school vouchers in the Tennessee state House says his goal with Tennessee’s public education system is to “throw the whole freaking system in the trash,” according to a recording obtained by NewsChannel 5.

Rep. Scott Cepicky, R-Culleoka, whose children attend a private religious school in Columbia, said he believes that “blow[ing] it all back up” is the only way to “fix” the state’s public schools, which he describes as “terrible.”

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Gov. Bill Lee promoting school privatization

TN Lawmakers Could Cancel School Lunch Debt

But that’s not on the agenda

Tweet from TN Holler

As lawmakers continue maneuvering to secure passage of legislation that would transfer hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to unaccountable private schools, they also continue ignoring a glaring need.

School lunch debt.

According to a recent article in Salon, students in K-12 public schools in Tennessee owe a total of more than $50 million in school lunch debt.

“. . . according to 2024 statistics from the Education Data Center, on a state-level, Tennessee has $51,610,062 in student lunch debt and about 285,770 food insecure students.”

If we have $144 million for school vouchers, we have $50 million to cancel school lunch debt.

The total projected cost of the voucher program at full implementation is in excess of $700 million a year.

You know what else would cost just over $700 million a year?

Providing free breakfast and lunch to all Tennessee K-12 students every day.

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Board Room Makeover

Bill Lee replaces entire TSU Board of Trustees

Gov. Bill Lee has completed his planned takeover of the Tennessee’s only state-supported HBCU, Tennessee State University.

His new Board of Trustees appointees include:

  • Trevia ChatmanPresident, Bank of America Memphis
  • Jeffery NorfleetProvost and Vice President for Administration, Shorter College
  • Marquita QuallsFounder and Principal, Entropia Consulting
  • Terica SmithDeputy Mayor and Director of Human Resources, Madison County
  • Charles TraughberGeneral Counsel, Division of Real Estate, Retail, and Financial Services at Bridgestone Americas
  • Dwayne Tucker, CEO of LEAD Public Schools
  • Kevin WilliamsPresident and CEO of GAA Manufacturing
  • Dakasha WintonSenior Vice President and Chief Government Relations Officer at BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee

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TSU Takeover

Lawmakers, Lee replace Tennessee State’s Board of Trustees

Almost immediately after the General Assembly gave final approval to legislation vacating the Tennessee State University Board of Trustees, Gov. Bill Lee appointed an entirely new board.

The move comes after several years of lawmakers issuing complaints about inadequacies at TSU, the state’s only state-supported HBCU.

A federal inquiry found the state has underfunded TSU by $2.1 billion over the past 30 years, and TSU leaders have been pressing legislators to devise a plan to correct the shortfall.

Following the takeover vote, advocates spoke out about Lee’s power grab:

Rev. Wesley King, a Disciples of Christ pastor in Nashville, said:

“I’m horrified but unfortunately not surprised by the atrocious vote of the Tennessee Supermajority today to vacate the entire Tennessee State University board. Instead of addressing the historic underfunding of TSU, the TN Supermajority has decided that they will use their ‘power’ as a legislative body to replace the board of trustees and take over the decision making power of the University.

question marks on paper crafts
Photo by Olya Kobruseva on Pexels.com

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Sometimes Led to Declines

School vouchers don’t help kids but Gov. Lee wants them anyway

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee has long been a staunch supporter of using public money to support private schools.

It seems this legislative session, he may be on the verge of achieving his ultimate goal: privatizing public education in the Volunteer State by way of a school voucher scheme.

Chalkbeat has a timeline of the march toward vouchers, and the details are quite interesting.

Here’s the key takeaway:

Also, the research hasn’t supported the case for vouchers as a way to improve academic outcomes. Recent studies find little evidence that vouchers improve test scores. In fact, they’ve sometimes led to declines.

Even now, big questions loom about the cost, impact, and legal merits of a program that threatens to destabilize Tennessee’s public education system.

A program that’s very expensive, doesn’t improve academic outcomes, and has “sometimes led to declines” is Gov. Bill Lee’s signature policy initiative.

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Another Warning from Arizona

Bill Lee has a longstanding affinity for privatization Arizona-style

Back in 2017, I warned that plans to voucherize Tennessee’s public schools sounded eerily like the voucher scam in Arizona.

That scheme led Arizona to a huge budget hole created by vouchers. It only took seven years to get there.

A few years later, I noted that Lee’s charter commission plans also mimicked a scheme taking shape in Arizona.

Now, news out of Arizona regarding fraud in that state’s voucher program should give Tennessee policymakers pause.

Three former Arizona Department of Education employees were indicted on conspiracy and money laundering charges in what prosecutors say was a scheme to defraud more than $600,000 from an education voucher program that has drawn criticism for its skyrocketing costs and lax regulation by the state.

The scheme saw employees create fake student profiles and approve the “ghost” students for vouchers – funds that were then paid to DOE employees.

Tennessee’s proposed school voucher scheme has come under fire for its lack of accountability. Without strict tracking of both expenditures and student performance, fraud along the lines of what has happened in Arizona is quite possible.

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