Kingsport school board goes on record against vouchers

Rick Wagner • Apr 24, 2019 at 2:13 PM

KINGSPORT — The city school board has joined a growing chorus of school boards and other groups opposing Gov. Bill Lee’s Educational Savings Accounts, sometimes called ESAs or simply vouchers.

The Board of Education voted 3-0 with two absent to oppose the idea during a called meeting Tuesday before a regular work session. President Carrie Upshaw and members Susan Lodal and Todd Golden voted yes, while Vice President Karen Reed-Wright and Eric Hyche were absent. Sullivan County and Bristol, Tenn., school boards also have recently gone on record against ESAs, also opposed by the Tennessee School Boards Association and teacher groups. The legislation would allow public school students in areas with low-performing schools to take public money and transfer it to use in a private school. 

None of those low-performing schools are in Northeast Tennessee, but opponents say ESAs would siphon money from all public schools and let vouchers get a foot in the door. Supporters say ESAs give low-income folks with kids in failing schools a chance for a better education, but opponents say the money should instead be spent on improving poorly performing public schools, not shifting students away from them. Opponents also decry reduced or no accountability for public reporting and state testing.

In action during the work session:

— The board  received a report on Science, Technology, Reading, Engineering, Arts, and Math (STREAM) education from Chief Academic Officer for Elementary Education Dwain Arnold, CAO for Secondary Education Brian Cinnamon and STREAM Specialists Andrea Fissel and Wendy Courtney. STREAM includes robotics, coding and project-based learning and is supported by community partners such as Eastman Chemical Company and STREAMWORKS.

— KCS Chief Finance Officer David Frye presented an update on the development of the 2019-20 KCS budget, which is to be up for review and approval at a called school board meeting at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, May 7. Initial revenue estimates are being calculated, based on preliminary information from Tennessee, county property and sales taxes and transfers from the city of Kingsport. Expenditures for next year also are still being finalized. Items that will need to be included are step increases, retirement rate and utilities increases, vehicle maintenance and a safe schools grant local match.

— Assistant Superintendent of Administration Andy True provided an update on two potential policy actions, one on alternative credit options that by law will allow students across the state to pursue courses that may not be available at their schools and how to handle application, approval and monitoring of the program, as well as appeals for denials. The other addresses a new requirement for notifying parents of students in kindergarten through third grade not meeting grade-level expectations, which must be put on a list considered for retention by Feb. 1 of each year.

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