Pernicious

That’s how Frank Cagle describes the theory of vouchers in his latest column. Here’s some of what he has to say:


But despite some practical problems, it is the pernicious theory of vouchers themselves that is the problem, no matter what you call it. We, as a society, have decided that an educated populace is necessary for the public good. So we pay taxes and fund public schools. Everybody pays taxes. Everybody has an interest in how successful public schools can be. Parents can take some of our tax revenue only if parents pay all the school taxes. Parents have no more right to take money out of the public treasury than anyone else.


If a teacher has 25 students in a public school and two of the students get vouchers to go elsewhere, how does the money work? You still have to fund the classroom. The teacher’s salary. The school staff. You can’t just remove two seats on the school bus. The costs are fixed. The idea that you can take money and issue vouchers without hurting the public schools is just wrong.

Cagle’s argument is nicely summed up in this image from Iowa:

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1000%

That’s how much Williamson County state Senator Jack Johnson supports vouchers. Except he was clear in a recent legislative forum that he didn’t want vouchers to impact Williamson County.

Tennessee Holler has more on Johnson’s bad math and rank hypocrisy:

Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson (R-Franklin) on the other hand said he supported vouchers “1000%” – although in the next breath he made it clear they would in no way affect Williamson County, which is where he lives, and which is where the town hall was being held.

Yes, it’s hypocritical to say vouchers are ok for other districts, but not right for yours. But it also denies reality. That is, vouchers simply don’t work to help kids and also that they carry significant costs. The funds depleted from the state budget to support vouchers will be funds not available to support an already underfunded public education system:

Nearly 15,000 students who never attended public school suddenly receiving vouchers would mean a state cost of $98 million. That’s $98 million in new money. Of course, those funds would either be new money (which is not currently contemplated) or would take from the state’s BEP allocations in the districts where the students receive the vouchers.

Let’s look at Davidson County as an example. If three percent of the student population there took vouchers, and half of those were students who had never attended a public school, the loss to the district would be a minimum of $8.4 million.

Applying that same math to Williamson County, a voucher program would mean a net loss to Williamson County Schools of around $3.4 million. That is, unless Johnson plans on dedicating new revenue to the BEP to make up for the cost of the voucher plan he backs “1000%.”

There’s no reason to believe he will do that, however. Especially since Tennessee is spending less per student in inflation-adjusted dollars than we were back in 2010 when Bill Haslam became governor. Johnson fully supported Haslam’s bleak education budgets that left our state investment in public schools stagnant. Now, he wants to direct public money to private schools and also wants to pretend that won’t impact the community he represents.

He’s either willfully ignorant or hopes the citizens of Williamson County aren’t paying attention.

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Voucher Resistance Grows


School Boards in Murfreesboro and Rutherford County both recently indicated opposition to using public money to fund private schools, the Daily News Journal reports.

Lawmakers should oppose state money being used for private education, says a resolution approved Thursday by Rutherford County school officials.

The seven Board of Education members also signed the document in opposition to any state legislation allowing vouchers or education savings accounts for private education. The elected school officials represent a district serving 46,772 students from prekindergarten through 12th grade.

Murfreesboro City School Board members also will be signing the resolution to oppose vouchers and education savings accounts for private schools, Chairman Butch Campbell said Friday.

“I think it’s a continued effort to let our legislators know the opposition that we have for school vouchers,” Campbell said.

The seven-member City School board serves a prekindergarten- through sixth-grade district with 8,989 students.

Despite opposition from the city and county school districts she represents, state Senator Dawn White says she remains a supporter of using public money for private schools:

State Sen. Dawn White, R-Murfreesboro, however, said she backs any potential legislation similar to a law passed a few years ago permitting education savings accounts for special education students.

White’s support for vouchers not only runs counter to the school systems she represents, it also ignores significant evidence that vouchers simply don’t work:

Voucher studies of statewide programs in Ohio, Louisiana, and Indiana all suggest that not only do vouchers not improve student achievement, they in fact cause student performance to decline.

Stay tuned to see if a voucher plan — in whatever disguise — moves forward this legislative session.

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Voucher Fraud


While there is clear evidence suggesting vouchers don’t improve academic outcomes for students, a new concern is getting the attention of Tennessee lawmakers: Fraud.

The Daily Memphian has more:

Reports from across the nation show situations in which private-school officials and parents spent voucher money for items unrelated to education. Cards were used at beauty supply stores, sporting good shops and for computer tech support, in addition to trying to withdraw cash, which was not allowed.

The Arizona Republic found many parents there put voucher funds into college-savings accounts then sent their children to public schools, among other fraudulent activity, all amid lax oversight. The Phoenix newspaper also reported the state investigated one case in which voucher funds were allegedly used to pay for an abortion after it adopted an Empowerment Scholarship Account program in 2011.

The Wisconsin State Journal reported in 2014 the state paid $139 million over 10 years to schools it wound up removing from its voucher program for not following Wisconsin’s financial reporting rules and other guidelines.

It’s not clear if voucher legislation will move forward this session, though Governor Bill Lee has consistently supported using public money to fund private schools.

 

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A Voucher By Any Other Name


Is still bad for Tennessee students and a raw deal for Tennessee taxpayers.

The Tennessee Education Association has some analysis:

It is clear that privatizers are favoring Education Savings Accounts as a new means to try to change the conversation after five years of stinging defeats when peddling more traditional voucher legislation.  While ESAs are referred to by some as “vouchers light,” nothing could be further from the truth.

ESAs are vouchers on steroids, as recipients are sent money directly rather than applying it toward the cost of private school tuition.  As such, parents can then spend the funds however they like, even if that means keeping their children home and not attending school at all.

This super voucher has been used in other states with disastrous results.  Sending funds directly to parents has invited widespread fraud and abuse of voucher funds.

“The fact is, we have truant officers for a reason,” says TEA chief lobbyist Jim Wrye.  “The state will be providing a monetary incentive for the misuse of funds and children will suffer as a result.”

Stay tuned as the legislative session develops and vouchers in some form emerge at the General Assembly.

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Houston County Commission Takes Stand for Public Schools


The Houston County Commission joined the growing list of opponents to a school voucher program recently.

The Clarksville Leaf-Chronicle has more:

The Houston County Commission has approved a resolution opposing any state measure that would take funds from public schools for use at private schools.

Twelve out of 13 commissioners, with one abstaining, voted on Jan. 28 for a resolution affirming support for public education and educators to be sent to Gov. Bill Lee, members of the Tennessee Legislature and the Commissioner of Education.

Legislation was filed by Rep. Jay Reedy, R-Erin, in early January to create a voucher program. Since then, a number of school boards have passed similar resolutions in opposition to such a program.

Local school boards and county commissions are expressing their position on vouchers as Governor Bill Lee has indicated he intends to pursue voucher legislation.

The bottom line: Vouchers don’t work.

Voucher studies of statewide programs in Ohio, Louisiana, and Indiana all suggest that not only do vouchers not improve student achievement, they in fact cause student performance to decline.

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.

Stay tuned to see if voucher legislation advances and how legislators respond to the local elected officials strongly opposing the use of public money to fund private schools.

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Vouchers Will Hurt Tennessee Students


Rev. David Kidd of Nashville, writing on behalf of Pastors for Tennessee Children, outlines the harms of school vouchers.

Kidd notes:

Although urban legislators have been divided on the question of private school vouchers, rural legislators have voted them down, realizing that vouchers offer no benefit to rural districts, but instead endanger their already fragile budgets.

Indiana’s voucher program, for example, has drawn rural students into religious schools to the detriment of small, vulnerable districts.  Only 15 children in Richland-Bean Blossom attendance district used vouchers in the 2013-2014 school year, soon after Indiana passed voucher legislation in 2011.

By 2016-2017 that number had increased to 41. Result? $200,000 less in revenue for Richland-Bean Blossom, sparking talk of closing schools.

He also outlines the academic harm caused by vouchers:

To make matters worse, vouchers often fail to improve outcomes for the students. Rigorous studies in three different states, Louisiana, Indiana and Ohio, (as well as the District of Columbia, the only federally funded voucher program), have shown that students who use vouchers to attend private schools fare worse academically than their closely matched peers attending public schools.

Kidd points out what the evidence shows: Vouchers are problematic for rural communities financially and end up leaving the kids they purport to help behind.

Our legislature should heed his warning.

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New Name, Same Game


The newly-established Pastors for Tennessee Children is already on the scene pointing out the dangers of the latest voucher scheme known as Education Savings Accounts.

Here’s their take on the latest threat to public schools with some explanatory material from the Network for Public Education:

Vouchers have proven to be unpopular in Tennessee, and after years of failed attempts to expand vouchers here, some lawmakers are considering “Education Savings Accounts” (ESAs) as an alternative. But make no mistake, vouchers and “Education Savings Accounts” are one and the same.

Will “Education Savings Accounts” lead to better results for Tennessee children and families? No.

Education Savings Accounts are not truly savings accounts. They “are another voucher-like scheme that redirects public money for educating all children to private, unaccountable education businesses, homeschoolers, and religious institutions. Privatization advocates created these programs because school vouchers are unpopular and because these programs are a way around prohibitions against using public dollars for religious schools. But just like vouchers, ESA’s bleed public schools of essential funds and do little to improve education options for families.”

The Pastors believe in God’s provision for ALL Tennessee children- not just the chosen few. We believe that our shared public tax dollars must be used is ways that align with public accountability so that all Tennessee children may prosper. We believe in the separation of church and state, and we oppose government oversight of religious schools.

The Pastors stand together in support of public education so that we may lift up the children of our state. Stand with us!

 

More from the Network for Public Education:

“Education Savings Accounts” (ESAs) are another voucher-like scheme that redirects public money for educating all children to private, unaccountable education businesses, homeschoolers, and religious institutions. Privatization advocates created these programs because school vouchers are unpopular and because these programs are a way around prohibitions against using public dollars for religious schools. But just like vouchers, ESA’s bleed public schools of essential funds and do little to improve education options for families.

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Wilson County School Board Opposes Vouchers


The Wilson County School Board unanimously passed a resolution opposing the creation of a voucher program in the state ahead of this year’s legislative session. Wilson County joins Knox County in speaking out about the dangers of a voucher scheme.

The move comes as Bill Lee is on the verge of taking over as Governor. Lee is strong proponent of using public money to fund unaccountable private schools.

Here’s more from the Lebanon Democrat:

The Constitution of the state of Tennessee requires that the Tennessee General Assembly “provide for the maintenance, support and eligibility standards of a system of free public schools,” and the state has established nationally recognized standards and measures for accountability in public education, according to the resolution

“Vouchers eliminate accountability, by channeling taxes to private schools without the same academic or testing requirements, public budgets or reports on student achievement, open meetings and records law adherence, public accountability requirements in major federal laws, including special education laws,” Wright said. “Vouchers have not been proven effective at improving student achievement or closing the achievement gap, and vouchers leave students behind, including those with the greatest needs, because vouchers channel tax dollars into private schools that are not required to accept all students, nor offer the special services they may need.”

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Commissioner Schwinn


Tennessee has a new Commissioner of Education.

Chalkbeat has the story of Penny Schwinn:

Penny Schwinn was tapped Thursday by governor-elect Bill Lee to join his administration in one of his most important and closely watched cabinet picks.

She will leave her job as chief deputy commissioner of academics for the Texas Education Agency, where she has been responsible since 2016 for school programs, standards, special education, and research and analysis, among other things.

In a statement, Lee praised Schwinn’s experience as both a teacher and administrator. An accompanying news release touted her reform work for leading to “the transformation of a failing state assessment program” and expansion of career readiness programs for students in Texas.

Here’s a word from the President of the Tennessee Education Association, Beth Brown:

As the president of the largest professional association for Tennessee educators, I look forward to working with Commissioner Penny Schwinn in the best interest of Tennessee students, educators and our great public schools. As a newcomer to our state, I hope she will take time to see firsthand the meaningful work happening in classrooms all across Tennessee, and also gain an understanding of the support and resources needed to ensure student success.

Based on our first conversation, I am confident we have common ground on the importance of test transparency, including educators’ voices in policy decisions and working to ensure all students have access to a quality public education.

Schwinn will take over a Department of Education reeling from repeated failures of the state’s standardized test, TNReady, and the subsequent lies to cover up the state’s culpability in those failures.

Additionally, the state’s turnaround district — the Achievement School District (ASD) is simply not getting results.

Schwinn’s tenure in Texas was not without controversy, as noted by the Texas Tribune:

In an audit released Wednesday morning, the State Auditor’s Office reviewed the education agency’s work and found it failed to follow all the required steps before offering a no-bid $4.4 million contract to SPEDx, which was hired to analyze how schools serve students with disabilities and help create a long-term special education plan for the state.

State auditors also said the TEA failed to “identify and address a preexisting professional relationship” between a SPEDx subcontractor and the agency’s “primary decision maker” for the contract. Penny Schwinn — that decision maker and the agency’s deputy commissioner of academics — did not disclose that she had received professional development training from the person who ultimately became a subcontractor on the project.

Schwinn will likely be tasked with taking action on both testing and the ASD as immediate action items. Additionally, it is expected that the Lee Administration will soon pursue an education agenda that includes using taxpayer dollars to fund private schools by way some form of voucher scheme.

 

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