One Scheme at a Time

The Senate Finance Committee was slated to take up both Governor Lee’s charter authorizer bill and his plan to voucherize Tennessee public schools today. Instead, the committee only completed discussion on the charter bill, ultimately approving it and moving it forward.

Apparently, the voucher legislation will have to wait at least a week as revelations about growing opposition are causing concern among Governor Lee’s team.

In fact, in a budget update presented to the committee, Lee’s Finance Commissioner noted that $25 million was being dedicated to fight Hepatitis C in Tennessee prison. Where’d that money come from? It’s the exact amount previously dedicated to year one of Lee’s voucher scheme.

Commissioner McWhorter said the money shift would not impact the voucher scheme in year one, but the move raised questions among advocates and critics alike.

It’s entirely possible the Senate Finance Committee is waiting to see how the House acts on vouchers before taking a controversial vote. It’s also quite possible the votes simply aren’t there for a voucher plan this year.

Tune in next week to see what, if anything, the Senate does with vouchers. Will a weekend of arm-twisting by Bill Lee move a vote or two? Will the House advance the bill and thereby push the Senate to act?

The drama continues …

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TEA Talks Vouchers, Charters

The Tennessee Education Association is raising concerns about Gov. Bill Lee’s school privatization agenda. More from a recent article posted on the TEA website:

In his State of the State address, Gov. Bill Lee announced his intent to allocate more than one-fifth of his K-12 education budget to advance privatization in Tennessee. His proposed budget includes more than $25 million for education savings accounts and $12 million for a charter school building slush fund.

“TEA has serious concerns about the governor’s plan to fund a program that is essentially private school vouchers with even less accountability that are more susceptible to fraud and abuse,” said TEA President Beth Brown. “At a time when classrooms lack needed resources and teachers are digging into their own pockets to buy classroom supplies, it is discouraging to see funding going to something proven to harm student achievement in other states.”

The increase in the building fund for private charter operators is partnered with a proposal to make it easier for new charter schools to be approved. While details on this are still not final, TEA strongly opposes any charter legislation that limits the authority of the locally elected school board to be the final voice on new charter school applications.

“Charter schools need to be a local decision, because local taxpayers bear a majority of the costs,” Brown said. “Also, local boards of education better understand the needs of their district and are better equipped to make the right decision for the students they serve.”

Both charter schools and any form of private school vouchers have proven to destabilize public school budgets and negatively impact existing classrooms. These privatization schemes also have a track record of harming student achievement.

“We have seen in other states where students in voucher programs and unaccountable charter schools are not keeping up with their peers in traditional public schools,” Brown said. “There are many proven ways to improve public education for all schools; unfortunately, the governor is choosing to invest significant resources in two dangerous paths.”

The more than $35 million currently slated for education savings accounts and rapid charter expansion would be better used in ways proven to increase student performance, like reducing class sizes and updating text books and classroom technology. 

“As a rural educator, I understand the assumption that these risks will only impact metro areas, but that is simply untrue,” said Brown. “Educators and public education advocates from every corner of the state need to stand together to defeat every single attempt to privatize education. If passed, these proposals would erode the foundation of all public schools.”

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