DeBerry’s Dollars

Rep. John DeBerry of Memphis is one of the most ardent supporters of school vouchers in the General Assembly. Voucher proponents (mostly Republicans) like to use DeBerry to show “bipartisan” support for their plan.

Here’s the deal: DeBerry may well be a “true believer” in vouchers. He often bashes public schools and their teachers in speeches in legislative committees. But, he’s also a top recipient of dollars from pro-voucher groups.

Here’s some information on the funds spent in support of DeBerry by various groups backing vouchers:

DeBerry Vouchers PIC

 

Students First (now Tennessee CAN) has spent over $100,000 keeping DeBerry in office. Betsy Devos‘s American Federation for Children has spent nearly $100,000.

It’s expensive to keep John DeBerry on your side.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport


 

Senate Majority Leader Says Vouchers are “Problematic”

Senator Mark Norris, who has supported school voucher bills in the past, calls this year’s voucher plan “problematic.” The plan advancing this year is sponsored by Brian Kelsey — like Norris, from Shelby County — and it is a “pilot” program just for Shelby County.

The Nashville Ledger reports:

“It’s problematic,” Norris said when asked about the legislation in light of a Shelby County Commission vote opposing the voucher bill. The measure targets Shelby County because it has some 30 schools in the state’s lowest 5 percent for student performance.

But the measure is “problematic” for a combination of reasons, Norris said, mainly because of opposition by the Shelby County Commission and concerns about holding private schools “accountable” to the same standards as public schools.

Some opponents point out students who attend private schools as part of the program won’t be required to take the TNReady assessment, as public school students will.

School voucher advocates have failed in each of the last four legislative sessions to advance enabling legislation.

Now, they are trying to start their program only in Shelby County. Even before voucher proponents narrowed their focus to Shelby County in hopes of securing enough votes to advance the bill to the House floor, emerging research warned vouchers could actually be detrimental to student achievement. Those facts didn’t stop a House subcommittee from advancing the legislation, however.

Now, though, it seems the legislation is facing problems as lawmakers face the reality of a community not excited about Kelsey’s plan.

The Ledger notes:

Rep. Antonio Parkinson, a Memphis Democrat who opposes the legislation, commended Norris “for seeing” problems with the measure.

“There’s pressure building and people are sacrificing, taking off from work to be here, because they’re passionate against the fact that they targeted Shelby County, as if Shelby County caused all of the problems with regard to education,” Parkinson said. “It’s becoming personal for a Shelby County legislator to be carrying legislation like that.”

Parkinson pointed out Hamilton County has low-performing schools but is not included in the pilot program legislation, which he termed a “great experiment.”

A program in Indiana that started out six years ago as a small voucher plan has expanded rapidly and now costs $131 million. Research there suggests that while some advocates argued vouchers would save school systems money, they have actually created a $54 million funding deficit:

A report on the program released by the Department of Education shows the program costs $54 million.

“If the idea behind a voucher program is we’re going to have the money follow the student, if the student didn’t start in a public school, the money isn’t following them from a public school, it’s just appearing from another budget,” [Researcher Molly] Stewart said. “And we’re not exactly sure where that’s coming from.”

Vouchers, then, create $54 million in new expenditures — an education funding deficit — in Indiana.

Evidence says vouchers don’t work. Research shows they are expensive. The Senate Majority Leader calls them “problematic.” It’s time for vouchers to go.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport


 

Corra and Weber Talk Vouchers

Legislation creating a school voucher program in Tennessee has been placed on the floor calendar of the House of Representatives for Monday, February 8th.

As the debate over whether to approve this proposal continues, bloggers Charles Corra and TC Weber weigh-in.

Corra offers two posts (so far), one dealing with the key players and the other beginning a conversation around possible constitutional issues.

Weber offers strong opposition to vouchers and notes:

Instead of adopting any of these ideas that are already proven to help children, we are choosing to adopt, at great expense, a plan that has been shown to hurt children. What a voucher program essentially does is ration high quality public education. Some children, namely those whose parents can navigate the system, will get a life boat to a potentially better situation. But what about those left behind? A vouchers plan does not offer a solution for those children. In fact, as blogger Steven Singer points out, it makes things worse.

More on School Vouchers:

What TN Can Learn from Louisiana on Vouchers

Voucher Week

The Price is Right

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

Vouchers Gone Wild

Vouchers are going wild in the Tennessee General Assembly this week and its not clear where they’ll stop.

First, the Senate Finance Committee tacked on an amendment to the principle voucher vehicle, SB 999.

The amendment adds the words “public or nonpublic school” to the bill.

Here’s what that means: Students could use the so-called Opportunity Scholarship to pay “out of district” tuition to a neighboring school district.

A family lives in Davidson County but wants their child to attend school in Williamson. The language allows them to use the voucher to send their child to school in Williamson if they meet all the other voucher requirements.

This is problematic on several fronts. First, there’s no way for districts to predict how many students will apply for admission from outside their district. This makes planning for growth/space needs difficult.

Next, the voucher amount may or may not equal the actual per pupil dollars spent on the child — creating a financial burden for the receiving district as well as for the district that loses the student. Yes, even if students leave a public school system, fixed costs mean vouchers increase, not decrease expenses.

The amendment will surely require a new Fiscal Note — an analysis of the financial impact of the bill.  And its adoption delayed consideration of the companion bill in the House Education – Administration & Planning Committee.

Following this adventure in vouchers, the Senate Education Committee and a House subcommittee approved a voucher plan that would allow any Tennessee student with an IEP – Individualized Education Plan – to receive vouchers. 120,000 Tennessee students currently meet this definition.

That means that in addition to the 20,000 student cap that is in the first voucher bill, another 120,000 students would be eligible. It’s not hard to imagine an ultimate goal of making vouchers available to every single student in Tennessee.

The idea for the IEP voucher plan is based on a plan promoted by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who saw the program adopted in his state while he was in office.

A report by Sara Mead of Education Sector at American Institutes for Research notes that the Florida program, on which the Tennessee legislation is modeled, is problematic.

Here are some highlights:

McKay students do not have to take the annual state tests administered to public school students, and McKay schools are not required to report any information on student outcomes—which goes against the national trend toward standards and accountability in public education. Thus, it is virtually impossible to say whether special-needs children using McKay vouchers to attend private schools are faring better, worse, or about the same as they had in their old public schools. It is also difficult to determine whether the McKay program is improving existing special-education services, since, unlike public schools, McKay schools are not required to provide these services at all.

Tennessee’s plan would have a similar lack of accountability — which means parents could claim the voucher and then have their child be grossly under-served.

Mead continues:

McKay’s lack of accountability requirements and its minimal quality and service expectations make McKay a seriously flawed program. Under the current structure of the program, taxpayers have almost no knowledge of how their money is being spent, and neither taxpayers nor parents have access to solid information about the performance of different McKay schools. For parents, the stakes are very high, as they are required to give up their due process rights under IDEA if they choose to participate in the McKay program. Parents, taxpayers, and the state’s special-needs children deserve better.

Moving toward a program with zero accountability and unproven results seems a grave disservice to the families of special needs children in Tennessee.

Next week may yield a slow down for these two voucher initiatives. Or, it could be more vouchers gone wild – more tax dollars spent, less accountability.

More on School Vouchers:

Fiscal Note Fantasy

TSBA Talks Vouchers

Why Vouchers Won’t Work

Should Tennesseans Support School Vouchers?

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

 

Fiscal Note Fantasy

The debate over vouchers began this week in the Tennessee House and Senate. A new vehicle for carrying vouchers (HB1049/SB999) is the chosen method for implementing a voucher scheme in Tennessee.

Of particular interest is the Fiscal Note, prepared by the legislature’s new Executive Director of Fiscal Review, who previously worked at the Friedman Foundation — an outfit dedicated to school choice.

The analysis of costs points out a shift of state and local dollars to non-public schools in an amount that goes up to nearly $70 million by FY 18-19 and beyond.

For local education agencies that have schools in the bottom five percent of achievement and are mandated to participate in the statewide scholarship program, the shift of state and required local BEP funding from these local education agencies to the non-public participating schools is estimated as follows: $16,570,000 in FY15-16; $25,473,800 in FY16- 17; $34,815,000 in FY17-18; and an amount exceeding $69,630,000 in FY18-19 and subsequent years.

In an unusual twist, the analysis notes a long-term savings to local governments and LEAs. Specifically:

LEAs with participating students will be relieved of the long-term educational cost burden of educating such students. Using the third year of the statewide program as the baseline, the cost burden relieved in FY17-18 is reasonably estimated to be $24,275,000.  This amount will increase in FY18-19 and each subsequent year. The long-term result of such cost burden relief could be a permissive decrease in local expenditures, a permissive reallocation of local funding, or a permissive cost avoidance of local expenditures. Cost burden relief may also result in a higher per pupil expenditure for students that remain within an LEA school. An LEA’s capacity to make any such permissive choice depends on the number and dispersion of students that participate in the scholarship program.  If the number of participating students is small and widely dispersed across grade levels it is less likely that any such permissive choice could be implemented, but more likely if the number is large and concentrated in just a few grades. 

What is not mentioned is the net loss of $10 million if these assumptions are accurate. That is, the FY17-18 “cost shift” is $34 million and the savings or “relief” is $24 million. In FY18-19 and beyond, the cost shift is nearly $70 million, with no estimate provided for cost relief, though it should “increase.”

First, I’d note this is still a net loss to school systems.

Next, I’d point out that fixed costs would mean the projected relief is more fantasy than reality. This is admitted to some extent when the note says:

If the number of participating students is small and widely dispersed across grade levels it is less likely that any such permissive choice could be implemented, but more likely if the number is large and concentrated in just a few grades. 

Additionally, a recent report on the impact of charter schools on MNPS gets to the same point in terms of students lost versus fixed costs:

“The key question for determining fiscal impacts is whether enrollment reductions allow a district to achieve expenditure reductions commensurate with revenue reductions. Fixed costs are incurred regardless of whether students attend traditional or charter schools. The problem is that some fixed costs, such as building maintenance, computer network infrastructure, and health services do not vary based on enrollment. Therefore, teachers and their salaries are a key cost driver tied to student enrollment … However, it is not always possible to reduce teacher costs proportionate to losses in revenue. For these costs to be reduced significantly, the school would need to close altogether.”

This analysis suggests two things: First, that the Fiscal Note assumptions about cost “relief” may be suspect and second, that the only way to gain true cost savings from a voucher program would be through school closures.

That’s right, to get true savings from a voucher program public schools would have to close. If they don’t, the cost shift noted in the fiscal analysis would mean increased costs to districts who then operate with decreased revenue.

This may be the fantasy of voucher advocates, but it’s a nightmare for public schools and the families they serve.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

 

 

Sen. Kelsey Offers Limited Voucher Plan

After watching competing voucher plans stall last year, Governor Haslam and Senator Brian Kelsey have both made statements this year that they’ll work together to pass a voucher plan.

Perhaps to that end, Sen. Kelsey filed a bill that proposes a limited voucher plan, initially allowing for 5,000 “opportunity scholarships” in the first year of the program.

Post Politics has the full story.

And Jon Alfuth in Memphis makes a case against vouchers here.

For more on Tennessee education politics and policy, follow us @TNEdReport