Local leaders still opposed to school vouchers
By Karen Sells
During a called Board of Education meeting Feb. 4, Hill explained that a legislative piece has been introduced by Gov. Bill Haslam, while another is expected from a coalition of supporters.
Washington County BOE members adopted a resolution from the Tennessee School Boards Association two years ago opposing any legislation or other similar effort to create a voucher program in Tennessee that would divert money intended for public education to private schools.
According to the resolution, vouchers eliminate public accountability by channeling dollars into private schools that do not face state-approved academic standards, do not make budgets public, do not adhere to open meetings and records laws, do not publicly report on student achievement, and do not face public accountability.
In addition, vouchers are an inefficient use of taxpayer money, the TSBA states, because they compel taxpayers to support two school systems, one public and one private, the latter of which is not accountable to all the taxpayers supporting it.
Hill said he doesn’t see Haslam’s bill as positive for Washington County, and he questions how it will be funded. “It seems designed for Nashville and Memphis,” he said. “And if they fund it from (state funding mechanisms), who knows where it will go.”
State Rep. Micah Van Huss (R-Johnson City) and State Sen. Rusty Crowe (R-Johnson City) joined Hill at last week’s meeting with school and county officials.
Hill and Van Huss said they are in favor of school choice, but will be unable to support Haslam’s bill with so many unanswered questions. However, Crowe predicts it will still pass in some fashion since it is coming from the governor.
“When he is out front like this, it’s pretty serious and hard to derail,” Crowe said.
According to Hill, Haslam has the support of his staff, and the coalition has hired nine lobbyists and already raised $2 million.
“We have to have a coalition ourselves,” he said. “The Board of Education has already passed a resolution, and the commission may want to consider one, and also the chamber of commerce.”
Hill fears the voucher argument is starting to shape up as a rural versus urban issue.
“It was just filed last week, you have to give us some time,” he said. “I hope you hear us being proactive.”
His real concern, Hill said, is Washington County will pay the cost and receive no benefit from the bill.
“It’s impractical because our end of the state wasn’t considered. They just want our vote,” he said.
BOE member Todd Ganger had his own request of the legislators.
“You say you’re opposed to how the bill is written now,” Ganger said. “I’d like to hear you say you oppose vouchers (regardless) because I feel like it will eventually trickle down to us.”
How transportation and the free or reduced lunch program would be provided were other concerns related to a voucher system.