Tennessee task force submits school voucher recommendations

Associated Press • Nov 29, 2012 at 6:52 AM

NASHVILLE — A task force appointed by Gov. Bill Haslam to study how to start a school voucher program submitted recommendations to the governor on Thursday that ranged from accountability to the amount of the scholarship.

The report comes about a year after Haslam appointed the nine-member task force, which included lawmakers and representatives from private and public schools

A school voucher program, or an opportunity scholarship program, would use state and local education funds to allow students to transfer to better private or public schools. Haslam appointed the task force because he said the issue needed more study before any legislation is pursued by the Tennessee General Assembly that convenes in January.

The group’s recommendations included discussion about accountability and private school eligibility, student eligibility and program capacity, and the amount of the scholarship.

There was consensus among task force members that accountability through testing and results should be required for participating schools, and that eligibility requirements needed to be established for private schools.

The group also agreed that scholarship students should have the option of attending a public school either within or across district lines.

In the case of student eligibility, there was consensus that the program should focus on low-income students and eligibility should be limited to students previously enrolled in public schools.

As for the amount of the scholarship, the group recommended that it be between a fixed-dollar award and one that varied based on a student’s district. One suggestion for a fixed-dollar amount was to use the per-pupil amount currently used by the state’s school funding formula, which is $6,182.

The group noted that Wisconsin’s program set its scholarship amount at a fixed $6,442 last year, and it is to increase every year by the same percentage amount as the funding given to the state’s public schools.

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