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Sullivan BOE set to go on record against school vouchers Monday

Rick Wagner • Mar 4, 2017 at 5:00 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — Sullivan County’s school board plans to consider a resolution Monday night opposing school voucher bills at various stages of consideration in the Tennessee General Assembly. In a nutshell, all would allow public money to fund K-12 private schools.

The bills are already opposed by the Tennessee School Boards Association and Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents. Near the end of Thursday’s Board of Education work session for Monday’s BOE meeting, member Matthew Spivey said he has “grave concerns” about the voucher legislation.

Spivey said information he’s seen from Indiana and Lousiana, which have vouchers, indicate the private school students there simply aren’t held to the same standards. The TSBA argues that private schools choose students, not vice versa, and that being in a private schools does not automatically mean students will perform better.

“The performance standards are much lower,” Spivey said, suggesting the board go on record against vouchers. Members Mark Ireson and Dan Wells agreed, and Vice Chairman Randall Jones suggested a board resolution Monday. Spivey then asked that such a resolution be added to the Monday agenda.

Superintendent Evelyn Rafalowski said she would send out a draft resolution to BOE members based on a sample resolution from the TSBA.

Arguments for vouchers include the claim that they give parents with children in lower-performing schools or who need extra attention an option, although the TSBA says that is not the case and that the funding shift takes revenues away from public schools without allowing them to cut expenses since a few students here and there do not diminish the need for a set number of teachers or school building space.

Tennessee’s constitution requires a free public education, and public school system are mandated to take all students, the TSBA points out.

A trio of voucher bills were filed by lawmakers this year. HB460 by Rep. Roger Kane, R-Knoxville, is under consideration by the House Education Administration and Planning Subcommittee, according to TOSS, which reported it was recently deferred until March 14.

The second, HB161, is on the Senate Education Committee agenda for March 8 and is a “pilot program” for Shelby County. The bill by Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, is on the Senate Education Administration and Planning Subcommittee agenda for March 7, the day after the Sullivan County BOE meeting.

The third, HB336, by Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, is set to go before the Senate Education Committee on March 8 and has been assigned to the House Education Administration and Planning Subcommittee. 

“Vouchers abandon public schools and drain away critical dollars. Vouchers divert attention, commitment and dollars from public schools to pay private school tuition for a few students,” according to the TSBA’s “talking points” on the issue.

Among the TSBA’s other arguments:

“Vouchers do not offer ‘school choice.’ Private schools choose the student; the student does not choose the school. Private schools are not public institutions, so the “qualifications” they may have for students could undermine the fundamental ideas of equality in education.

“Vouchers do not raise student achievement for all. Research and evaluations have found little or no difference in vouchers and public school students’ performance.

“Vouchers leave behind many students, including those with the greatest needs. Vouchers leave behind many disadvantaged students because private schools may not accept them or do not offer the special services they need. Students with disabilities and English language learners are underserved in voucher schools.”

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