Voucher Opposition Growing

I reported last week on the Sumner County School Board passing a resolution opposing vouchers.

Here’s more from the Hendersonville Standard on that vote:

“We are just trying to keep it from ever getting implemented in the state to begin with because there’s no telling where it would go (from there),” board member Ted Wise said.

Board member Sarah Andrews agreed.

“I appreciate us looking at this,” she said. “I have been disappointed to see the number of bills coming up in the legislature concerning vouchers. To take money away from local schools is just very frustrating.”

The story noted that school systems impacted by the voucher proposal currently advancing in the General Assembly could stand to lose $37.2 million.

A program that started small in Indiana now costs $131 million, creating an education funding deficit of $54 million.

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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


 

Mary Holden Takes the Hill

Former educator and current blogger Mary Holden tells the tale of her “Day on the Hill” in Nashville. Definitely worth a read. Here’s some of what she had to say about her experience advocating for public education at the Tennessee General Assembly:

There are many things that bother me about voucher legislation. But here are the two biggies:

  1. Vouchers haven’t worked anywhere they’ve been implemented. The evidence is clear. See also herehere, and here.
  2. Look who opposes vouchers: Teachers! You know, those people who actually do the work of educating our children! They know a thing or two about what is needed in public education, and we should be listening to them! (I should know…. I was a teacher, in case you didn’t know!)

But seriously, if the people we trust to educate our children believe vouchers would be harmful to our schools AND if there is plenty of evidence showing that vouchers aren’t successful, then why???? Why do they keep getting proposed?

Read more about Mary’s visit to our legislators and her encounter with state Senator Steve Dickerson.

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


 

Sumner School Board Takes a Stand Against Vouchers

The Sumner County School Board tonight unanimously voted in favor of a resolution opposing school vouchers in Tennessee. The move comes as legislative debate over vouchers is heating up.

One member of Sumner County’s legislative delegation, state Senator Ferrell Haile, is a co-sponsor of the “Opportunity Scholarship” program targeted at Memphis.

Here’s the resolution:

WHEREAS, the Sumner County Board of Education is responsible for providing a local system of public education; and

WHEREAS, the Tennessee General Assembly in the 2017 legislative session will entertain legislation that would create a voucher program allowing students to use public education funds to pay for private school tuition; and

WHEREAS, more than 50 years have passed since private school vouchers were first proposed, and during that time proponents have spent millions of dollars attempting to convince the public and lawmakers of the concept’s efficacy, and yet, five decades later, vouchers still remain controversial, unproven, and unpopular; and

WHEREAS, the Constitution of the State of Tennessee requires that the Tennessee General Assembly “provide for the maintenance, support and eligibility standards of a system of free public schools”, with no mention of the maintenance or support of private schools; and

WHEREAS, the State of Tennessee, through work of the Tennessee General Assembly, the Tennessee Department of Education, the State Board of Education and local school boards, has established nationally recognized standards and measures for accountability in public education; and

WHEREAS, vouchers eliminate public accountability by channeling tax dollars into private schools that do not face state-approved academic standards, do not make budgets public, do not adhere to open meetings and records laws, do not publicly report on student achievement, and do not face the public accountability requirements contained in major federal laws, including special education; and

WHEREAS, vouchers have not been effective at improving student achievement or closing the achievement gap, with the most credible research finding little or no difference in voucher and public school students’ performance; and

WHEREAS, vouchers leave many students behind, including those with the greatest needs, because vouchers channel tax dollars into private schools that are not required to accept all students, nor offer the special services they may need; and

WHEREAS, vouchers give choices to private schools, not students and parents, since private schools decide if they want to accept vouchers, how many and which students they want to admit, and the potentially arbitrary reasons for which they might later dismiss a student; and

WHEREAS, many proponents argue these programs will increase options, when in fact several options currently exist within public school systems; and

WHEREAS, voucher programs divert critical dollars and commitment from public schools to pay private school tuition for a few students, including many who already attend private schools; and

WHEREAS, vouchers are an inefficient use of tax payer money because they compel taxpayers to support two school systems: one public and one private, the latter of which is not accountable to all the taxpayers supporting it; and

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the Sumner County Board of Education opposes any expansion of the special education voucher program as well as any new legislation that would divert money intended for public education to private schools.

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


 

What Do the Facts Say?

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.

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


 

 

 

Farmer Takes on Vouchers

Anne-Marie Farmer, writing over at the League of Women Voters blog, takes on the perennial issue of vouchers. Here’s some of what she has to say:

No matter what initial limitations are placed on a voucher scheme, no matter how much it is couched in flowery language about opportunity and scholarship, the bottom line remains the same. Vouchers have been proven time and time again to be a failure at raising student achievement, and to reduce the resources available to our public schools that serve the most vulnerable children. Vouchers shift scarce public money away from school systems that are required and committed to serve every child to private schools that retain the right to pick and choose which students they prefer to educate. They represent an abandonment of public education and of the ideal that school should be open to all children.

READ MORE about why the LWV opposes vouchers.

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


 

 

Let’s Get Ready for Vouchers

It may only be December, but the voucher battle at the General Assembly is already heating up.

There’s the Oak Ridge School Board, passing a resolution opposing the use of public funds for private school vouchers.

Then, there’s a Murfreesboro legislator citing President-elect Donald Trump’s support of vouchers as a reason to move forward on the issue.

To be sure, Trump has selected a free market fundamentalist and voucher advocate, Betsy DeVos, to be the next Secretary of Education.

According to the story in the Oak Ridger on the anti-voucher resolution, Rep. Kent Calfee stands in opposition to vouchers, while other lawmakers from the area are certain the issue will come up, but did not commit on how they would vote. Senators Randy McNally and Ken Yager have both supported voucher legislation in the past.

Meanwhile, in Murfreesboro, Senators Bill Ketron and Jim Tracy both indicated support for vouchers, with Ketron noting Trump’s support of vouchers.

Ketron also noted that he didn’t expect vouchers to impact Murfreesboro or Rutherford County schools.

So, the battle lines are being drawn for the 2017 voucher fight. It is a fight that may well coincide with the confirmation hearings of pro-voucher Secretary of Education candidate Betsy DeVos. If 2017 sees the General Assembly once again reject vouchers, 2018 will likely see Trump’s plan to spend some $20 billion of federal funds to entice states to enact voucher schemes. Those funds just might tempt Tennessee lawmakers.

More on Vouchers:

A Letter of Reservation

Million Dollar Baby

Lessons from Louisiana on Vouchers

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


 

Voucher Vulture DeVos Tapped as Education Secretary

President-elect Donald Trump has reportedly offered Michigan-based voucher vulture Betsy DeVos the role of Education Secretary in his cabinet.

Education Week reports:

  1. DeVos is the chairwoman of the American Federation for Children, an advocacy and research organization which advocates for a variety of forms of school choice including vouchers and tax-credit scholarships. Fellow board members include Kevin Chavous, a former District of Columbia Council member, and Campbell Brown, a former CNN anchor and the founder of The 74, an education news organization that says the “public education system is in crisis” in the U.S.

Fortunately, we have a preview of what education policy could look like if DeVos has her way. Unfortunately, that outlook is pretty grim. In June, I wrote about Detroit’s experiment with school choice — an experiment designed and supported by DeVos. Essentially, the system DeVos champions is one based on chaos:

Chaos. Uncertainty. Instability. That’s what a free market approach to public education brought Detroit. And, sadly, it also resulted in academic outcomes even worse than those expected in one of the worst public school districts in the country.

Choice advocates would have us believe that having more options will lead to innovation and force the local district to improve or close schools. Instead, in the case of Detroit, it led to chaos. The same fate could be visited upon other large, urban districts who fall into the free market education trap. Another unfortunate lesson from Detroit: Once you open the door, it’s very, very difficult to close.

The National Education Association was quick to respond to the reports:

Every day, educators use their voice to advocate for every student to reach his or her full potential. We believe that the chance for the success of a child should not depend on winning a charter lottery, being accepted by a private school, or living in the right ZIP code. We have, and will continue, to fight for all students to have a great public school in their community and the opportunity to succeed no matter their backgrounds or circumstances.

“Betsy DeVos has consistently worked against these values, and her efforts over the years have done more to undermine public education than support students. She has lobbied for failed schemes, like vouchers — which take away funding and local control from our public schools — to fund private schools at taxpayers’ expense.

In fact, the American Federation for Children by way of its Tennessee affiliate, the Tennessee Federation for Children, has spent millions of dollars in Tennessee lobbying for vouchers and supporting pro-voucher candidates for the General Assembly. In four consecutive legislative sessions, those efforts have failed. However, with renewed pressure from the federal government under DeVos, Tennesseans can likely expect an even more aggressive push for dangerous voucher schemes in 2017.

We’ve already seen voucher front group Tennesseans for Student Success spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to elect pro-voucher candidates.

And then there are the reports of voucher lobbyists hiding behind ethics law loopholes to host pro-privatization lawmakers at beach vacation retreats.

To be sure, Betsy DeVos is an advocate of education policies that have failed and she’ll likely seek an expansion of these failed policies through the use of the Department of Education.

MORE ON VOUCHERS:

Million Dollar Baby

Lessons from Louisiana on Vouchers

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


 

 

 

New Name, Same Game

StudentsFirst, one of the leading proponents of school vouchers in Tennessee, has a new name.

Jason Gonzales reports:

Pro-voucher student choice group StudentsFirst Tennessee has changed its name to TennesseeCAN as part of working as an official member of the 50CAN: The 50-State Campaign for Achievement Now network.

TennesseeCAN will function as a new organization whose legislative agenda, policy priorities, staff and underlying mission remains unchanged, according to a news release from the group.

StudentsFirst has been one of several organizations supporting legislation to create school voucher programs in Tennessee. These so-called “opportunity scholarships” use public money to pay a qualifying student’s private school tuition. Despite millions in spending on campaigns and lobbying, a broad voucher plan has yet to pass the General Assembly.

A very limited voucher plan focused on a narrowly-defined group of special needs students is now in effect in Tennessee.

More on vouchers:

Craig Fitzhugh on Vouchers

Million Dollar Baby

What TN Can Learn from Louisiana on Vouchers

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


 

 

TEA on New Voucher Program

The state launched a voucher program this week aimed at students with disabilities.  The IEA voucher program was created legislatively in 2015 and the vouchers are available this year. The Tennessee Education Association (TEA) expressed concerns about the program during the legislative fight and continues to express concerns as the program launches.

Here’s the statement from TEA:

The Tennessee Education Association again expressed concern over the state’s new IEA Voucher program and urged parents to proceed with caution.

“Programs like the one the Tennessee Department of Education is launching today have been subject to fraud and abuse in other states,” said TEA President Barbara Gray. “This is of even greater concern to TEA because this program is targeted toward our most vulnerable children who need strong educational services.”

The new voucher program came about after legislative action in 2015. The program is designated for certain students with disabilities. A similar program in Florida has been subject to millions of dollars in fraud, mostly by way of individuals establishing schools that don’t adequately serve the disability population.

“Parents should proceed with extreme caution. This program will create large financial incentive for vendors to seek this public money, and may attract unscrupulous providers who do not have children’s best interests at heart,” said Gray. “Likewise, we ask that the state exercise strong oversight to ensure children and families are protected.”

One portion of the legislation indicates that when parents accept this voucher, they forfeit certain protections under the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA).

“By removing these kids from public school, parents may not understand the huge ramifications of surrendering their child’s rights under IDEA to free, public education. The state of Tennessee also loses a portion of the hundreds of millions of dollars in federal assistance currently educating Tennessee’s children with special needs. This lost federal money will have a ripple effect throughout the state and will harm all special education students, even those who stay in public school,” said the TEA president.

“Every effort must be made to protect children and ensure the viability of programs approved to accept these new vouchers. Fraud in programs like this hurts both taxpayers and those whom the program is intended to serve.”

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