Bill Lee and the Voucher Toilet

Knoxville columnist Frank Cagle has some thoughts on Bill Lee’s voucher scheme. To be clear, Cagle thinks it’s a very bad idea. This is because Cagle has actually read evidence and understands basic math — two concepts that seem to escape many at the legislature.

Here’s some of what Cagle has to say:


The plan issues a debit card with $7,300 on it and the parent can spend it on anything deemed “educational.” Field trip to Disney World? A flat-screen TV study aid? These programs have been found to be infested with fraud and abuse elsewhere. Who in Tennessee will police the program and find out if it is being abused? Is the Comptroller’s Office supposed to audit 15,000 students? And who decides if a questionable item is an “educational expense?” An audit of the program in Arizona revealed parents misspent $700,000 in one year.


The plan uses one-time general fund money to set it up and to fool people that the ultimate cost won’t come out of the existing education budget. By 2025 Lee would have spent $125 million to have a program in place for 15,000 students. It is unlikely that the administration would spend this kind of money to set up this program if it did not plan to expand it exponentially. At that point BEP funds to local school systems will be cut to pay for the vouchers. The only thing one can conclude is that this plan will gradually disburse funds to parents to send students to private schools, education funding from the state will be cut to pay for it and the end result is not a happy outcome for public schools.

Cagle is exactly right — the plan is expensive, with a 10-year cost approaching $1 billion. Yes, Bill Lee wants to devote $1 billion of taxpayer money to funding unaccountable private schools even though similar schemes in other states have yet to yield positive results.

Finally, Cagle notes that legislators are being punished by legislative leadership for opposing vouchers. Cagle notes that admitted sex offender David Byrd was given a subcommittee chairmanship, but had that honor stripped after he opposed Lee’s voucher plan. That’s how Glen Casada governs Tennessee’s House of Representatives — admitting to being a sex offender is all well and good, but when you get in the way of Bill Lee’s plan to privatize Tennessee’s public schools, you are suddenly unfit to lead.

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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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