Another Warning from Arizona

Bill Lee has a longstanding affinity for privatization Arizona-style

Back in 2017, I warned that plans to voucherize Tennessee’s public schools sounded eerily like the voucher scam in Arizona.

That scheme led Arizona to a huge budget hole created by vouchers. It only took seven years to get there.

A few years later, I noted that Lee’s charter commission plans also mimicked a scheme taking shape in Arizona.

Now, news out of Arizona regarding fraud in that state’s voucher program should give Tennessee policymakers pause.

Three former Arizona Department of Education employees were indicted on conspiracy and money laundering charges in what prosecutors say was a scheme to defraud more than $600,000 from an education voucher program that has drawn criticism for its skyrocketing costs and lax regulation by the state.

The scheme saw employees create fake student profiles and approve the “ghost” students for vouchers – funds that were then paid to DOE employees.

Tennessee’s proposed school voucher scheme has come under fire for its lack of accountability. Without strict tracking of both expenditures and student performance, fraud along the lines of what has happened in Arizona is quite possible.

More Tennessee News

Exposing the Harms of School Vouchers

A Focus on Making Childcare Affordable

School Voucher Folly

A disaster awaits as voucher vote looms

Peter Greene writes about school voucher legislation on the verge of being debate in the Tennessee General Assembly.

He notes:

Tennessee SB 2787 (also, HB 2468) is one of those odd little legislative tricks beloved by both parties and mysterious to ordinary mortals. It started out as a bill requiring the department of education to study school choice in other states and then make a report. Except by the time it’s done it won’t be about that at all.

This bill will be the vehicle for delivering on Gov. Bill Lee’s promise to create a universal school voucher scheme in Tennessee.

Green goes on to note that based on Tennessee’s education track record, vouchers are likely to be a disaster in the state.

Choice fans talk about the needs of students and families, but Tennessee with its rich history of grift-centered education reformsterism seems poised to once again put the interests of profiteers ahead of protecting the rights of families. Heaven only knows what this bill is going to look like when it finally assumes its final form, but I’m not optimistic.

And Greene has this to say about the lack of accountability measures for the schools accepting vouchers:

It would be nice, in a choice marketplace, to have some basic guardrails in place. We mostly don’t depend on market forces to protect us from markets that sell poisonous food. One would think that the government could provide that basic level of oversight for a school choice system, but voucher fans are far more likely to explicitly forbid government oversight, and true to form, none of the discussion surrounding this bill seems to center on what requirements vendors would have to meet in order to get some of those taxpayer-funded voucher dollars.

Vouchers: “Ineffective, Inefficient, Inequitable”

Chattanooga Unity Group opposes Lee’s voucher scheme

The Unity Group of Chattanooga is opposed to Gov. Bill Lee’s proposal to expand a school voucher scheme and make vouchers universal in Tennessee.

The group points to Arizona as an example of a state where a once-small voucher program ballooned to create a significant budget shortfall.

After analyzing vouchers in other states in terms of costs and outcome, the Unity Group concluded that vouchers are:

“Ineffective, inefficient, and inequitable.”

Pastors Lament Lee’s Voucher Push

Southern Christian Coalition expresses concerns about Lee’s voucher plan

The Southern Christian Coalition is speaking out against Gov. Bill Lee’s school voucher expansion plan. Lee gave additional details about the plan in his State of the State address last night. The scheme, as announced, would cost a projected $141 million in the first year of operation.

McIntyre said Gov. Lee’s voucher plan would harm our state’s public schools.

“Instead of trying to make the situation better and choosing to fully fund our public schools, Governor Lee is publicly promoting his voucher scheme, which we only take funds from school districts the state doesn’t already adequately fund, and instead funnel money to his friends and donors in the private school sphere.”

Democrats Slam Lee’s Voucher Plan as a “Scam”

Lawmakers speak out ahead of State of the State

In remarks delivered Friday, Senate Democratic Caucus Chair London Lamar challenged Gov. Bill Lee to lead on issues that make a difference for working families.

Among the topics addressed by Lamar was school vouchers. Here’s what she had to say:

Once again, Tennesseans are going to be told they should support a scam that defunds our neighborhood schools to subsidize private school tuition for wealthy families.

Lamar’s description of the impact of vouchers is especially salient in light of mounting evidence that school vouchers not only fail to improve student achievement but also exacerbate inequality.

Pastors Call for Investment in Public Schools

Southern Christian Coalition calls for rejection of voucher scheme

A group of Tennessee pastors is calling on the General Assembly to reject Gov. Bill Lee’s proposed expansion of the state’s school voucher program.

Rev. Brandon Berg of Anderson County and a member of the Southern Christian Coalition said Lee’s plan does not reflect support for public education and instead could lead to using public funds for schools with zero accountability.

Instead, in spite of his constituents’ concerns, he insists on pushing his voucher plan that will bleed funding from our already underfunded, hyperscrutinized public schools and divert it to private schools with far weaker accountability. In fact, Lee and the other supporters of vouchers refuse to answer questions about accountability for those schools.

The group has previously spoken out against the voucher scheme:

Pay More, Get Less

Tennessee’s voucher scheme fails to deliver, Lee wants to expand it

Gov. Bill Lee is proposing a massive expansion of Tennessee’s fledgling school voucher scheme (ESA). This despite evidence that universal vouchers are both expensive and ineffective.

The Center Square reports that the state’s current ESA program gave out $9800 per participant – higher than original estimates and more than Lee plans for his separate universal voucher.

Tennessee students in a pilot educational savings account program in three counties are receiving $9,800 – the average statewide funding per public school student – this year.

That’s higher than the $7,075 first-year number in a proposed statewide ESA program and higher than what the funding was estimated to be heading into the approval of the pilot, which is currently taking place in Davidson, Shelby and Hamilton counties.

The state’s education commissioner admits that early results are not promising when it comes to student academic achievement:

“They are required to administer the TCAP,” Reynolds said. “The results aren’t anything to write home about, is my understanding.

An Agenda of Hope

Advocates hopeful Tennessee won’t adopt voucher expansion

Ahead of the start of Tennessee’s 2024 legislative session, a group of advocates gathered to express support for an “agenda of hope.”

Pratik Dash, from Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition Votes, said, “We are all here today on the first day of the 2024 legislative session – Black, Brown, White, younger and older, from different regions of the state because we love Tennessee. We’re here because we love our communities, our people, and our children enough to demand what we deserve. We deserve to live in a state where we can confidently say everyone – regardless of what we look like or where we come from, we are all safe from gun violence. Right now, all eyes are on Tennessee, but we know that our movement is bigger than this moment.”

The call for “love and hope” followed an earlier call for the rejection of school vouchers. Representatives of the Southern Christian Coalition noted that they believe vouchers are potentially harmful to Tennessee students and communities.

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Pastors Speak Out on Immorality of Vouchers

Southern Christian Coalition challenges Lee’s privatization agenda

A group of Tennessee pastors is calling on Gov. Bill Lee and the Tennessee legislature to move away from what it says are dangerous and morally questionable policies, including school vouchers.

Rev. Matt Steinhauer, one of the Interim Pastors of St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church in Franklin, said, “Our teachers here in Tennessee work hard to provide every child a life and skill-forming quality education, yet Governor Lee is determined to get in the way by denying adequate funding, supporting distractions such as banning books, and now working to pass his harmful voucher scheme that would take funds meant for our public schools and instead give them to private schools.”


Of Vouchers and Inequality

The rich get richer, the poor get left behind

In this analysis of the potential long-term impacts of a universal school voucher scheme, the argument is made that vouchers amount to a transfer of wealth to the already wealthy.

The long game, then, is to dismantle public education, hand the profits to privateers, and restrict education resources such that the haves have more and the have-nots have never.

The privatization of Tennessee’s public schools has long been a goal of Gov. Lee:

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