Open Forum

School Vouchers

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The issue on the table – are school vouchers a good idea for our community?

In his State of the State address, Governor Bill Lee asked the Tennessee General Assembly for $25.4 million for Education Savings Accounts (ESAs – formerly known as school vouchers) and $12 million for a charter schools investment program. ESAs would provide approximately $7,300 in public money to eligible students who wish to attend private schools, home schools, or other approved alternatives. At that level of funding, approximately 3,400 students from across the state could participate in the ESA program.

Questions to Consider

  • Are school vouchers a net positive for a community?
  • How effective are voucher programs when it comes to students education and achievement?
  • Does this divert money and resources away from public schools?
  • How will this impact our county and city budgets?
  • Is the Lincoln County Board of Education stance on vouchers the right one for our community?

Before You Share Your Thoughts

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In short, show kindness, respect, and civility to everyone that you talk to in this conversation. Don’t automatically assume their viewpoint or intentions. Community discourse requires thoughtful, open, and civilized debate. That happens best when we’re human to each other. 

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Once you’ve thought over what you want to say, join the conversation in the comments below!

11 comments on “School Vouchers

  1. Christina

    Can an example of a school system that does use vouchers be provided along with the benefits or downfalls?

  2. Having enrolled my kids in both public and private schools, I end up agreeing with our BOE. We need to be increasing funding for our schools, not diverting our taxpayer dollars into private schools where we lose accountability and transparency.

  3. Atlee T.

    If the right accountability standards were put in place, it’s worth trying. The private school accepting those ESAs would need to be as transparent as any public school. I’d want to see regularly published updates on their finances, testing, and all the other data that a public school provides. Maybe this $25 million for 3,400 will help iron out the accountability and transparency concerns.

  4. Patrick Jones

    I saw this letter from Will Pinkston, a member of the Nashville School Board, and thought it was something good to add to the conversation.

    Over the past couple of months alone in Nashville, we’ve learned:

    * New Vision Academy, a charter school celebrated by the Tennessee Department of Education and the State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE), is under federal and state investigations into academic and financial irregularities. After endangering students by operating in violation of local fire codes, New Vision abruptly closed — but only after sponging millions of dollars from state and local taxpayers and fleecing at least $125,000 from the state’s charter facility fund.

    * LEAD Academy, a charter school that aggressively advertises “100 percent acceptance” to college, for years told students they had to first be admitted to a college or university before they’d be granted a high school diploma — potentially a violation of federal civil rights law. Sending students on a forced march to college, when many of them are unprepared and eventually drop out, is contrary to your interest in supporting kids who instead want to pursue career and technical education.

    The negative fiscal impact that charter schools have had on our public schools is well documented. In the current school year, charters are siphoning off $130 million in public money from Metro Nashville Public Schools while our teachers and staff aren’t getting pay raises — and our chronically underfunded traditional schools are barely treading water, financially.

    Our city and county schools aren’t going to get near the financial costs that Nashville schools do. However I do find those schools as good examples of the need for accountability and transparency equal to our public schools.

  5. Daniel J.

    Here’s my confusion with the proposal. From my understanding, Gov. Lee’s plan would set up a statewide board that would give the yes/no on charter schools in our town. Right now, a charter school needs local approval. With the new charter plan, a private school could go to the state board for permission to start a school. That completely bypasses our local elected officials and puts more power in the hands of the state. Shouldn’t we keep that kind of decision in the hands of our local communities where it belongs?

  6. Bill Heath

    By reading the plan closely it will take $50 million taxpayer dollars for EACH of the first two years of the plan. The governor’s staff told the legislators that they anticipate it growing to $100 million per year in 3-4 years.

    If those dollars were prorated to public school systems in the state that would mean an additional $200,000 to Lincoln County Schools annually for the next two years, not to mention beyond. For Fayetteville City it would be approximately $75,000 for each of the next two years. SO, please do not let anyone say it will not impact our local public schools as that amount of tax dollars would go a long way for both of our local public school districts.

    Another point, research shows that Tennessee has one of the strongest public school accountability Systems in the nation. Districts have accountability ratings, school will receive a letter grade this year, teachers have a very stringent evaluation system which impacts pay, and students take end of course tests that count approximately 20% of their grade. The many factors in these accounts stability measures are too many to describe. SO, it is difficult to understand the logic of politicians wanting to take taxpayer dollars and pay for students to leave this often praised accountability system and use those taxpayer dollars to attend schools with absolutely no accountability to the taxpayers.

    In closing, please let your legislators know that you would like for them to put the money in the proposed budget for vouchers to instead put it into our public schools.

    • Paul Winters

      An additional $200k? Wow – I had no idea it was that much. You’re right – it’s hard to find the logic to move those taxpayer dollars into private schools. Let’s fully fund public education, especially when we’ve got two great public school systems here!

    • Laura Redding

      Thank you Dr. Heath for that info! From the InformLC videos to the ongoing community engagement, your work to make sure we stay informed has been really helpful. It’s a breath of fresh air that I hope more of the public officials start doing.

  7. Victoria

    I moved to Fayetteville from a city that did have school vouchers in place. It drastically drained the resources our public schools had available. For every dollar in school vouchers, it’s one less dollar for our public schools. As Paul said – let’s fully fund our public schools and set our students up for success.

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