School Vouchers. Opportunity Scholarships. Rainbow-Colored Unicorn Subsidies. No matter the name, these ill-conceived programs have proven disastrously ineffective in the past and are doomed to the same fate in Tennessee if they go into effect.
Several versions of a voucher program are being considered in the Tennessee legislature, with each taking funds away from public schools to pay the full cost of private school tuition for a small number of students. This is a horrible plan for many reasons.
- School vouchers programs simply don’t work. The most comprehensive data comes from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where public school students substantially outperform voucher recipients in reading and math despite public schools having far higher percentages of special needs students, impoverished students, and minority students–groups that typically perform at lower rates. Another national study showed no increase in achievement among voucher recipients.
- Schools are not held accountable. Schools are not held accountable. Tax dollars are sent to private entities that are permitted to keep everything secret and ignore any complaints from voucher recipients. They are not required to abide by any academic standards, adhere to open records laws, or answer to any elected officials. Academic accountability and comparison to peers in public school will be impossible to enforce with voucher schools allowed to give alternative tests to measure growth.
- Vouchers award choice to the school not the students or their families. Special education students are required to waive their rights to services. Voucher schools are not required to provide any special education programs. Our most vulnerable students will be excluded from this program, and most private schools offer little in the way of Gifted & Talented programs, Advanced Placement classes, and counseling.
- Vouchers, as defined by the current bills, will not guarantee accessibility to students living in poverty.
- The program drains resources from public schools. Under the smallest school voucher plan, $146,000,000 will be taken away from public school systems over four years, according to the legislature’s fiscal review committee. With Tennessee public schools already 49th in education funding, this is yet another sucker punch to our already-hurting schools.
- Voucher students can suffer from educational whiplash. A participating school can quit the program at will and without notice, potentially telling voucher students they don’t have a school right before the new school year. Schools can also be kicked out of the program, causing the same issue.
The time is now to arm legislators with the facts rather than the falsehoods being spread by out-of-state interest groups seeking to cash in on our kids. Please contact your elected officials now and tell them to say no to vouchers!