The facts tells us that school vouchers don’t work — they are expensive and can actually have a negative impact on student achievement.
But, that didn’t matter last night as a subcommittee of lawmakers advanced a voucher bill proponents claim will only impact a small group of students.
Grace Tatter at Chalkbeat reports:
… Tennessee lawmakers insisted Tuesday that the state can succeed where others have failed, and easily advanced a proposal that would start a five-year pilot program in Memphis.
The voice vote came after members of a House education subcommittee heard voucher opponents cite recent research showing that vouchers in other states have led to worse academic outcomes for students. But again and again, lawmakers said that Tennessee could be different.
Perennial voucher advocate John DeBerry of Memphis said that voucher opponents shouldn’t worry — the program will be small, and schools won’t lose that much money.
Tatter notes that he:
… projected that few students would actually opt to participate, meaning public schools would not lose as much funding as its leaders fear. “A lot of folks are not going to put in the time, the effort,” DeBerry said, “but for the handful of parents that do, why not give them that right?”
Let’s examine that a little more closely. DeBerry is acknowledging that public schools will lose money under the plan he supports. He’s willing to take money from a school system that finally appears to be turning around in order to help what he describes as a small group of students. Oh, and the evidence says the vouchers won’t actually help those students and may well harm them.
Now, let’s compare DeBerry’s remarks to what former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels said when he started a voucher program in his state:
Back in 2011, Daniels spoke to a conservative think tank a few months after he signed the program into law. At that speech, he said he didn’t expect this to become a big problem.
“It is not likely to be a very large phenomenon in Indiana,” he said “I think it will be exercised by a meaningful but not an enormous number of our students.”
There are other similarities between Indiana’s voucher experience and the Tennessee proposal. Back in 2011, the program in Indiana was capped at 7500 students. The proposal advanced last night would initially provide vouchers for up to 5000 students.
That Indiana program was expanded rapidly, and now it serves more than 30,000 students.
If you think lawmakers won’t move to quickly expand vouchers in Tennessee once the door is opened, you are wrong. At the end of the 2015 legislative session, lawmakers narrowly approved an IEA voucher bill. This bill was targeted at students with a specific list of special needs. Now, Senator Dolores Gresham is advancing legislation that would expand that program to include students who have never attended a public school. The program is in the first year of operation, there’s no data on student results, and yet voucher proponents are already seeking to expand.
Last night, facts didn’t matter. A majority on subcommittee ignored research and suggested Tennessee could be different. The track record in other states tells a different story.
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