Maddox Fund Opposes ESAs

A statement from the Dan and Margaret Maddox Fund on Governor Bill Lee’s voucher plan:

Since 2008, the Dan and Margaret Maddox Charitable Fund has been partnering with nonprofit organizations that are working to improve the lives of young people in Middle Tennessee.  Core to our values is knowing that education and knowledge are transformative.  Understanding this as an education funder, we feel that Educational Savings Accounts (ESAs) will be a detriment to ensuring that all children can access high-quality educational opportunities.

Educational Savings Accounts would divert funds away from public schools and the students that need them.

Tennessee currently ranks 45th in the nation for public spending on education.  Allowing these already scarce resources to potentially go to private institutions through ESAs would place a greater strain on our currently under-funded public schools.  ESAs would not be made accessible to all students.  Out of the 145,000 students living in low-income households across the state, only 5,000 would receive an ESA in this first year.  Requirements for documentation would also bar some of Tennessee’s most vulnerable students from these educational opportunities.  The $7,300 provided by ESAs may not fully cover the tuition for students to attend private schools and does little to address the multitude of other barriers that families face like transportation.

Accountability and measurement are important for making sure that education programs are truly making an impact.  Maddox asks its nonprofit partners to be able to demonstrate their success, but studies on ESAs and similar voucher-based interventions have shown that they have little impact on student achievement and are less effective than other programs in addressing attendance and graduation rates.  There is little accountability to the students accessing ESAs.  Students attending private schools will not be held to the same academic assessments.  There are also no provisions to ensure that English language learners, students with Individual Education Plans, or those with special needs are not discriminated against in the admissions process.

ESAs will only make educational opportunities available to a select few and without any oversight, would potentially further disparities for our state’s low-income communities.

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

Done Dirt Cheap

Desperate for votes for his voucher scheme to send public tax dollars to unaccountable private schools, Governor Bill Lee appears to be going along with a plan unveiled by House Republicans yesterday to buy off rural legislators with a tiny grant program. Let’s call it what it is: bribery.

Here’s the deal: The new plan eliminates Madison County from the list of districts where students will initially be eligible for Education Savings Accounts. That’s likely intended to win over the votes of Madison County Republicans wavering in their support of Lee’s proposal. It means that only students in Shelby, Knox, Hamilton, and Davidson counties will be eligible for the program when it launches (if it should pass).

Next, the plan redirects funds originally intended to help urban districts to rural districts. Again, this is nothing more than throwing money at lawmakers (and their districts) in order to secure the needed 50 votes for passage in the House.

Here’s a breakdown of how that would work:

In the first year, school districts outside the four counties identified in the program would split up $6.2 million. In the second, schools in the 91 counties would share $12.5 million. In the third year, the aforementioned counties would receive $18.7 million.

91 counties would divide a relatively small amount of funds. In the first year, if the grants were evenly divided among all counties, each county would receive an additional $68,000. That’s barely enough to fund a single position in most districts.

The amended proposal also pushes the amount of the voucher to $7500. That means at full implementation (currently imagined at 30,000 students), the total annual cost would be $225 million.

That’s enough to give every teacher in the state a raise of roughly 8%. That’s $225 million NOT available to fund the BEP or to enhance our current funding formula by improving ratios for RTI or school counselors or nurses.

Instead of adding the elements needed to make our public schools a success, Bill Lee and the House GOP envision giving that money away to private schools that don’t have to take the state’s TNReady test.

The legislation is currently scheduled to be heard in Senate Finance and on the House floor on Tuesday, April 23rd.

Oh, and if you’re a legislator not susceptible to this type of cheap bribery, Lee and his team will ensure you face pain in the form of attack ads paid for by pleasant-sounding dark money groups with names like Tennessee Federation for Children and Tennesseans for Student Success.

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

Your support — $3, $5, $7 or more — makes reporting education news possible.

Gardenhire Opposition Puts Vouchers in Doubt

Andy Sher of the Chattanooga Times-Free Press reports that Senator Todd Gardenhire will vote NO on vouchers when Governor Bill Lee’s ESA plan hits the Senate Finance Committee tomorrow. The revelation could spell trouble for Lee’s plan, according to Sher.

Here’s more:

“A week and a half ago, the governor asked to meet with me on another bill,” Gardenhire said. “I told him I was not for the voucher bill, but I’d carried every voucher bill for the past six years. But this was one I could not go along with.”

Among the reasons Gardenhire gave for opposing the current measure are the exclusion of undocumented immigrants and the fact that Lee didn’t consult Hamilton County lawmakers before initiating his proposal.

“Nobody asked any of the legislators at all that I know of for any input,” Gardenhire said. “They just decided just to come up with this plan.”

Gardenhire’s promise of a NO vote comes as parents prepare to descend on the Capitol to express support for public schools and opposition to vouchers. The bill is scheduled for votes in both the Senate and House Finance Committees on Tuesday.

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

Your support helps make reporting education news possible.

Donate Button

Dolores Doesn’t Know

Like US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, Tennessee Senate Education Committee Chair Dolores Gresham appears not to know how schools actually work.

Yes, apparently Gresham believes that parents in Tennessee must present a driver license, birth certificate, passport, certificate of citizenship, certificate of naturalization or a US citizen ID card to enroll their child in public school. Would she be shocked to know that all you really need is a utility bill with your address? Unless you and your child are homeless and then you just have to declare that you are homeless and living in the district.

Gresham made the remarks during debate on Governor Bill Lee’s voucher plan. The Senate version, sponsored by Gresham, contains a provision previously declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in the case of Plyler v. Doe. DeVos made a similar error in explaining how students register for school during testimony last year.

When asked about the provision by committee member Raumesh Akbari, Gresham replied that she believed this was “routine” and “no different than what is required of traditional public school students.”

Perhaps if she actually spent time with public school educators listening to and understanding them — rather than lecturing them on their greed, as she did during the voucher debate — she might know how schools work.

In addition to her remarks demonstrating a basic understanding of what is required to register for school, Gresham said that public school principals too often view students as “profit centers.” Apparently, in Gresham’s world, Tennessee school principals are rounding up kids so they can enroll them and cash in on the huge payout from the state’s BEP funding formula.

She’s been at this for a long time, folks. There’s really just no excuse for this level of ignorance.

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

Your support makes reporting education news possible.

Parents, Teachers Speak Out on Vouchers

As Gov. Bill Lee’s voucher proposal advances through the legislative process and, at least in the Senate, grows to cost significantly more money while reducing accountability, parents around the state are rising up and speaking out against the plan.

Chalkbeat reports on an event in Nashville on Tuesday where parents and teachers expressed opposition to vouchers and also indicated another demonstration was forthcoming.


“What this plan is going to do is take money from over 90 percent of our kids and give it to just a few,” said Lauren Sorensen, a Knox County teacher who helped organize the event.


“Our legislators actually have a constitutional duty in Tennessee to maintain and support a public education. They have no duty to support private education. And simply put, they are not doing their jobs,” Sorensen said.


The rally drew parents too, including Patty Daniel whose two children attend public schools in Williamson County, near Nashville.


“All of the parents I know do not want vouchers, and we are baffled as to why some of our elected officials are so intent on pushing this bill,” Daniel said. “I feel like they are listening to high-powered lobbying groups and not to actual parents and teachers.”

Daniel’s statement is right on the money, literally. Key legislative leaders received significant financial support from pro-privatization groups like the Tennessee Federation for Children and Tennessee CAN.

Meanwhile, dark money groups like Tennesseans for Student Success are attacking any Republicans who deviate from support for Lee’s voucher scheme. Even embattled state Rep. David Byrd, an admitted sex offender, faced attacks and repercussions from legislative leadership — not for his bad behavior but for his vote against vouchers.

The latest version of the plan will now cost a minimum of $219 million at full implementation. That’s enough money to give every teacher in the state a pay raise of around 7.5%.

Debate is sure to heat up in the next two weeks as the proposal moves toward a likely floor vote in both the House and Senate.

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

Your support — a one-time or monthly contribution — makes reporting education news possible.



Voucher Opposition Grows Ahead of Key Vote

The House Education Committee will take up Bill Lee’s voucher proposal tomorrow at 8:00 AM. Ahead of this pivotal vote, groups across the state are expressing opposition to the plan. The Tennessee Education Association, TN Parent Teacher Association, and Pastors for Tennessee Children joined in the following press release announcing opposition:

The Tennessee Education Association, Tennessee Parent Teacher Association and Pastors for Tennessee Children stand united in opposition to any form of education savings account voucher programs. As legislators consider the administration’s voucher proposal this week, it is important that they know teachers, parents and faith leaders are adamantly opposed to privatizing our public schools.

“Our state constitution is clear that our elected leaders have an obligation to provide all Tennessee children with access to a quality public education,” said Beth Brown, TEA president and Grundy County High School teacher. “Moving forward with any form of voucher program abandons our commitment to our most vulnerable students. Details of the current voucher proposal reveal the administration’s intentions to provide entitlements to families living comfortably and already able to afford private school tuition. If passed, this ESA program would starve public schools of millions in funding and dramatically worsen the inequities in public education.”

TEA is just one of numerous organizations with serious concerns about Gov. Lee’s voucher plan. With details of the plan indicating that more than $100 million in taxpayer money will be allocated to pay for a program proven in other states to be fraught with abuse and fraud, parents and faith leaders are standing with educators to oppose ESAs.

“Tennessee PTA advocates for all children and for the improvement of public education,” said Cheryl Floyd, Tennessee PTA president. “Tennessee PTA believes that no one educational program is best for all children and supports educational choices which improve outcomes within public schools. Voucher programs have proven ineffective in improving student outcomes, lack accountability to taxpayers and students, divert funds away from public schools, and place the individual rights of students at risk. The governor’s proposed education savings accounts are just another form of vouchers.”  

“Vouchers, especially for the wealthy, are a corruption of God’s common good, and the use of vouchers to underwrite religious schools is a violation of religious liberty,” said Rev. Terry Ladd, pastor at First Baptist East Eighth Street Chattanooga and Pastors for Tennessee Children founding member. “Pastors for Tennessee Children supports the provision of high-quality public education for all children, as a crucial civil rights issue. Vouchers will damage public education in our state.” 

Brad Fiscus, a Williamson County School Board member, lay minister with the United Methodist Church and founding member of Pastors for Tennessee Children, added, “Voucher programs historically have proven to serve students from wealthy families at levels higher than students from low-income families. As a result, vouchers promote segregation and centralization of resources to those who already have the most access.”

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

Your support makes reporting education news possible.

Vouchers: A Lesson from Indiana

As Governor Bill Lee’s voucher legislation begins the legislative process this week with a hearing in a House Education subcommittee, this information from Indiana offers a word of caution. The voucher program in Indiana expanded rapidly and now results in a $154 million decrease in state funds available for public schools.

Here’s more:


Executive Summary
Growth in Indiana’s budget for public school personnel has not kept up with growth in its general fund or even inflation. Specifically, the current budget for public school personnel is almost $300M behind the 2009-10 budget when inflation is taken into account.


Vouchers are also funded from the budget for public school personnel. In 2018-2019, over $150M of this budget was utilized to fund Vouchers — with very little accountability.


The girls and boys attending Indiana’s public schools are currently educated utilizing a budget that is lagging by $450M.


Indiana’s General Fund (i.e., monies legislators control)


The Consumer Price Index (inflation rate) has grown by 16.71%
The Indiana General Fund has grown by 20.96%
K-12 Tuition Support Budget has grown by only 12.12%
Tuition Support funds nearly all personnel working in public schools
Considering inflation, but momentarily ignoring the impact of Vouchers, the Tuition Support Budget is $295,031,840 behind 2010 funding for the current school year


How Vouchers Work


Depending on family income, a qualifying child can receive a Voucher worth up to 90% of their local public school’s per student funding
Nearly 60% of voucher recipients have never attended a public school, but are now an additional cost taken from the Tuition Support Budget
Of the remaining 40%, the majority attended public schools for only one year before the Voucher program, but not the same year
The average public school student receives a little less than $6000, the average Voucher student receives $4258
The Voucher money is not taken from the local school, it is taken out of the Tuition Support Budget, (there is not a simple transfer of funds between the two schools) thereby decreasing the dollars for all public schools


Number of students’ educations funded by the tuition support budget


Public school enrollment during 2009-2019 is volatile, ranging from an increase of 3523 students in 2017-18 to a decrease of 4877 students in 2011-12
From 2010 to 2017, the US Census Bureau projects Indiana has lost 20,806 school-aged children. In that same period of time Indiana’s public and charter schools’ enrollment has only dropped by 6,158 from 1,036,839 students to 1,030,681 students.
There were 36,328 voucher requests in 2018-19
The 36,328 vouchers in 2018-19 result in a 3.41% increase in students to be funded this year


Impact on the amount of money allocated per student by Indiana


The Voucher Program decreases funding for all public school students
In 2009-10, the Tuition Support Budget allocation divided by enrolled public school students was $6,192
In 2018-19, the Tuition Support Budget allocation divided by only the enrolled public school students would be $6998, which is a 13% increase from 2009-10. However, the addition of Voucher students cut the average to $6,826 – only a 10.25% increase while the rate of inflation was 16.71%
This results in approximately $154 million taxpayer dollars spent to fund vouchers that could have been utilized for the benefit of girls and boys attending public school


Fiduciary Oversight


There is no fiduciary oversight by the state of the Voucher money
There are no requirements that keep Voucher taxpayer dollars from being used to enable the receiving organization to redirect its existing money for non-education purposes

Not only are vouchers costing Indiana taxpayers a lot of money, they simply aren’t getting results for kids.

Tennessee lawmakers would be wise to look at the impact of vouchers in other states. They’ll see a very expensive program that doesn’t get results.

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

Your support makes reporting education news sustainable.



TEA Talks Vouchers, Charters

The Tennessee Education Association is raising concerns about Gov. Bill Lee’s school privatization agenda. More from a recent article posted on the TEA website:

In his State of the State address, Gov. Bill Lee announced his intent to allocate more than one-fifth of his K-12 education budget to advance privatization in Tennessee. His proposed budget includes more than $25 million for education savings accounts and $12 million for a charter school building slush fund.

“TEA has serious concerns about the governor’s plan to fund a program that is essentially private school vouchers with even less accountability that are more susceptible to fraud and abuse,” said TEA President Beth Brown. “At a time when classrooms lack needed resources and teachers are digging into their own pockets to buy classroom supplies, it is discouraging to see funding going to something proven to harm student achievement in other states.”

The increase in the building fund for private charter operators is partnered with a proposal to make it easier for new charter schools to be approved. While details on this are still not final, TEA strongly opposes any charter legislation that limits the authority of the locally elected school board to be the final voice on new charter school applications.

“Charter schools need to be a local decision, because local taxpayers bear a majority of the costs,” Brown said. “Also, local boards of education better understand the needs of their district and are better equipped to make the right decision for the students they serve.”

Both charter schools and any form of private school vouchers have proven to destabilize public school budgets and negatively impact existing classrooms. These privatization schemes also have a track record of harming student achievement.

“We have seen in other states where students in voucher programs and unaccountable charter schools are not keeping up with their peers in traditional public schools,” Brown said. “There are many proven ways to improve public education for all schools; unfortunately, the governor is choosing to invest significant resources in two dangerous paths.”

The more than $35 million currently slated for education savings accounts and rapid charter expansion would be better used in ways proven to increase student performance, like reducing class sizes and updating text books and classroom technology. 

“As a rural educator, I understand the assumption that these risks will only impact metro areas, but that is simply untrue,” said Brown. “Educators and public education advocates from every corner of the state need to stand together to defeat every single attempt to privatize education. If passed, these proposals would erode the foundation of all public schools.”

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

Your support makes reporting education news possible.

Camper vs. Vouchers

House Democratic Leader Karen Camper of Memphis is taking on Governor Bill Lee’s proposed voucher program, which he is calling an “education savings account.”

The Daily Memphian has more:


Camper castigated the governor’s education savings account plan, saying voucher programs in other states resulted in poorer performance by students.
“We must continue to fight against this attack on our public school system,” Camper said in response to Lee’s speech, adding she is “saddened” by governor’s effort to take money from public school programs.

More on Lee’s plan:


Simultaneously, he is asking the Legislature for $25.4 million for education savings accounts and $12 million for a charter schools investment program, doubling the amount of money for charters and setting new rules for access to public facilities while establishing an independent authority to approve charter schools. Formerly known as vouchers, ESAs would provide public money, $7,300 to eligible students, to attend private schools or other alternatives, possibly home schools.

That Lee is advancing an agenda to dismantle public schools should come as no surprise as he has consistently shown his support for voucher programs.

The question for this legislative session is: Will rural legislators join with urban representatives to stop vouchers, or will Bill Lee prevail and begin the privatization of Tennessee’s public schools?

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

Voucher Resistance Grows

School Boards in Murfreesboro and Rutherford County both recently indicated opposition to using public money to fund private schools, the Daily News Journal reports.

Lawmakers should oppose state money being used for private education, says a resolution approved Thursday by Rutherford County school officials.

The seven Board of Education members also signed the document in opposition to any state legislation allowing vouchers or education savings accounts for private education. The elected school officials represent a district serving 46,772 students from prekindergarten through 12th grade.

Murfreesboro City School Board members also will be signing the resolution to oppose vouchers and education savings accounts for private schools, Chairman Butch Campbell said Friday.

“I think it’s a continued effort to let our legislators know the opposition that we have for school vouchers,” Campbell said.

The seven-member City School board serves a prekindergarten- through sixth-grade district with 8,989 students.

Despite opposition from the city and county school districts she represents, state Senator Dawn White says she remains a supporter of using public money for private schools:

State Sen. Dawn White, R-Murfreesboro, however, said she backs any potential legislation similar to a law passed a few years ago permitting education savings accounts for special education students.

White’s support for vouchers not only runs counter to the school systems she represents, it also ignores significant evidence that vouchers simply don’t work:

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.

Stay tuned to see if a voucher plan — in whatever disguise — moves forward this legislative session.

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

Your support helps keep the education news coming!