I Am Back

Voucher Bills are Back, And Not Just One

Remember when there was a media blitz proclaiming voucher legislation was dead for this year? Well, they are back.

The national strategy is all about expanding voucher eligibility under one law. In Tennessee, two new bills introduced this year are trying to expand the Individualized Education Account (IEA), more accurately called an IEP Special Ed voucher. The current TN voucher law passed in 2015 was originally advertised as a small voucher to allow privatization to take a bite and see if it works. It limited the disabilities that students must have to qualify to receive a voucher.

Even though TN is in year 3 of that Special Ed voucher, we have no idea if these Special Ed vouchers are cost-effective or how kids perform academically while spending our tax dollars. There is no accountability. There is no real interest in seeing if this helps. It is legalizing the funding of private school (80% are religious schools) with public money. Surprisingly, it seems most are not going to private schools with these vouchers.

Of the 20,000 eligible voucher students, only about 100 are being used. Most of those 100 seem to be used for homeschooling. This looks more like a homeschool money grab in the name of school choice. Is this the intent? Maybe they should be called homeschool vouchers?

Further proof of this widening homeschool strategy is a bill asking for voucher money to buy books and materials. HB2491/SB2608 Education – As introduced, permits a parent to buy student workbooks and instructional materials, in addition to textbooks, with funds from the parent’s student’s Individualized Education Account (IEA). – Amends TCA Title 49 and Title 67, Chapter 4. It remains uncalendared.

TREE advocates, we need to focus on what is scheduled to be heard in the next few weeks. These two NEW Voucher Expanders are dangerous to public schools.

HB1109/SB0987 – Education – As introduced, removes requirement that an eligible student be previously enrolled in a public school for two semesters prior to receiving an individualized education account, attend a Tennessee school for the first time, or receive an account in the previous school year in order to be considered eligible to receive an individualized education account. – Amends TCA Title 49. http://wapp.capitol.tn.gov/apps/BillInfo/Default.aspx?BillNumber=HB1109

HB2474/SB2610 Students – As introduced, extends eligibility for an individualized education account to any student with an individualized education program (IEP). – Amends TCA Title 49, Chapter 10, Part 14. http://wapp.capitol.tn.gov/apps/BillInfo/Default.aspx?BillNumber=HB2474

Let’s Break This Down

HB1109/SB0987 “Give Vouchers to Kids Already in Private Schools” scheduled for House Education Instruction & Programs Subcommittee to be heard Wednesday 3/21/2018, will recommend students already in private school receive public dollars for tuition. By allowing children that have never been enrolled in public school to take a private school voucher, funded from the BEP, essentially local districts will be forced to pay for private school tuition. School districts in TN are already underfunded and cannot afford this kind of scheme.

HB2474/SB2610 “All IEP’s Get a Voucher” is scheduled for hearing in House Education Administration & Planning Subcommittee on Tuesday 3/13/2018. (THIS TUESDAY) This bill will widen current voucher to ALL students with an IEP, increasing the fraction of Tennessee students eligible for IEA vouchers from about 2% to over 13.9%. According to the state report card, 13.9% of all Tennessee students are disabled, bringing the total students eligible to 139,234.

For the 2017-18 school year, the statewide average expenditure was almost $10,000 per student (actually, $9,958 ). If about half the eligible students applied for an IEA voucher, the program would divert about $700 million state and local taxpayer dollars away from our public schools.

For those of you who buy into the narrative that this is great for special needs kids or kids with learning differences, think again. It might work out fine for parents who can navigate losing their IDEA rights to services and who can afford to close the tuition gap, pay for extra services, or homeschool. The voucher will not cover most schools’ full tuition or extra therapy costs. This bill is nothing more than a widening of the privatization of public education and codifying the loss of disability services. (A Betsy DeVos goal!)

While private schools that receive vouchers through the program cannot discriminate against students with disabilities, they are also not required to offer special education services beyond those that can be provided with “minor adjustments” to their educational program. This means that schools can deny admission outright to students if their needs are considered too severe. If schools do choose to admit students with special needs, they are not obligated to provide necessary behavioral and educational interventions and can refuse to continue services at any time or charge extra for the additional services. Parents who investigate closely realize that these vouchers are not what they are advertised to be.

We cannot emphasize enough that the widening of the IEP voucher law is nothing more than a widening of privatization, not about providing accountable access to services. Just take a look at the Arizona Legislature when they created its ESA program in 2011 for special-needs students. It has since expanded it to allow children from poor-performing schools, from military families, and others. The pattern has arrived in Tennessee. It is all intentional.

Will you let your education committees hear from you? Vouchers in other states have been nothing more than public education budget-busters with no accountability to tax dollars and no proof of academic improvements. We need to work to improve, strengthen, and fund special education needs in the public school system.

Email the Sub Committees.
House Education Instruction & Programs Subcommittee Meets Wednesday 3/21/2018 Tell them to vote NO HB 1109 that allows families, not in public school, to take an IEA voucher.

Email Copy Paste:
rep.sheila.butt@capitol.tn.gov, rep.roger.kane@capitol.tn.gov , rep.david.byrd@capitol.tn.gov, rep.bill.dunn@capitol.tn.gov, rep.john.forgety@capitol.tn.gov, rep.joe.pitts@capitol.tn.gov, rep.mike.stewart@capitol.tn.gov

House Education Administration & Planning Subcommittee Meets Tuesday 3/13/2018 (THIS TUESDAY) Tell them to vote NO HB 2474 that allows all IEPs to apply for a voucher.

Email Copy Paste:
rep.mark.white@capitol.tn.gov, rep.harry.brooks@capitol.tn.gov, rep.john.deberry@capitol.tn.gov, rep.eddie.smith@capitol.tn.gov, rep.johnnie.turner@capitol.tn.gov, rep.dawn.white@capitol.tn.gov

Thank you for your voice.