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.

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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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They Don’t Trust Vouchers

Ed Trust speaks out against Bill Lee’s voucher scheme

The Education Trust of Tennessee is out with a statement opposing Gov. Lee’s school voucher scheme.

While there are key differences between the voucher expansion bills sponsored by Rep. Lamberth and Senator Johnson respectively (HB1183/SB503), The Education Trust—Tennessee stands in opposition to both versions. Our concerns with universal vouchers include, but are not limited to, their negative fiscal impact on public schools, the lack of civil rights protections for students, the lack transparency and accountability on their effectiveness, and the well-documented negative impact of vouchers on student achievement.

They also sent a letter to Members of the General Assembly detailing their opposition.

Speaking of vouchers and their impact on student achievement:

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.

Gov. Bill Lee promoting school privatization


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Big Money, Small ROI

Bill Lee plans to invest TN tax dollars in a scheme with declining returns

Gov. Bill Lee’s signature policy initiative, school vouchers, is barreling toward final approval. The plan has a year one price tag of over $140 million and a second year projected cost approaching $300 million.

Tweet explaining the cost of vouchers

This seems fiscally problematic.

Especially given the reality that vouchers have rarely shown academic improvement and in some cases, have actually caused academic declines.

In fact, in Tennessee’s own school voucher pilot program, the results suggest vouchers are far from improving academic outcomes.

Students enrolled that were tested scored lower than their public school peers in the same county and below the statewide average.

Back in 2017, I noted:

Kevin Carey writes in the New York Times:

The first results came in late 2015. Researchers examined an Indiana voucher program that had quickly grown to serve tens of thousands of students under Mike Pence, then the state’s governor. “In mathematics,” they found, “voucher students who transfer to private schools experienced significant losses in achievement.” They also saw no improvement in reading.

The next results came a few months later, in February, when researchers published a major study of Louisiana’s voucher program. Students in the program were predominantly black and from low-income families, and they came from public schools that had received poor ratings from the state department of education, based on test scores. For private schools receiving more applicants than they could enroll, the law required that they admit students via lottery, which allowed the researchers to compare lottery winners with those who stayed in public school.

They found large negative results in both reading and math. Public elementary school students who started at the 50th percentile in math and then used a voucher to transfer to a private school dropped to the 26th percentile in a single year. Results were somewhat better in the second year, but were still well below the starting point.

In June, a third voucher study was released by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative think tank and proponent of school choice. The study, which was financed by the pro-voucher Walton Family Foundation, focused on a large voucher program in Ohio. “Students who use vouchers to attend private schools have fared worse academically compared to their closely matched peers attending public schools,” the researchers found. Once again, results were worse in math.

Bill Lee has spent his time and energy as governor finding a way to funnel public dollars to private schools and it is clearly not in service of improving outcomes for kids.


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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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A Rally for Public Education

Coalition of groups asks lawmakers to reject Lee’s voucher scam

As Gov. Bill Lee’s proposal to expand the state’s failing voucher program to all 95 counties moves forward in legislative committees, a group of public education advocates is speaking out against the bill.

Nashville’s WSMV:

Teachers from across Tennessee will flock to the Tennessee State Capitol on Tuesday for a rally against Gov. Bill Lee’s school voucher expansion plans.

The teachers will arrive at the Capitol at 9 a.m. for a day of action before the rally begins at 1 p.m.

They said the voucher plan is a scam and it will further defund Tennessee’s public schools, which are already ranked sixth to last in education investment.

The teachers will be joined by parents and others advocating for full funding of the state’s public schools. The group is coming together under the banner of Tennessee For All.


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Phil’s Got the Tapes

Pro-voucher group exposed

NewsChannel5’s Phil Williams has a recording of a prominent school voucher lobbyist calling for political punishment for Republican lawmakers who refuse to support Gov. Bill Lee’s voucher scheme.

“I don’t think anybody is going to get unseated without some substantial independent expenditures coming in there,” Gill says, acknowledging that wealthy special interests would need to spend a lot of money to knock off lawmakers who did not vote their way.

The point seems to be that privatizers (like Gill, affiliated with the Tennessee Federation for Children), are willing to spend what it takes to secure pro-voucher votes from lawmakers.

This is a familiar tactic. Tennesseans for Student Success employed similar methods when some GOP lawmakers refused to support a different privatization scheme.

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