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.
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.
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.”
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:
TheCenter Squarereports 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.
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.
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.”