Article XI, section 12 of the Tennessee Constitution says, “The state of Tennessee recognizes the inherent value of education and encourages its support. The General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance, support and eligibility standards of a system of free public schools. The General Assembly may establish and support such post-secondary educational institutions, including public institutions of higher learning, as it determines.”
So when I hear our legislators are considering bills (HB190/SB196) that would provide private school vouchers for a small number of low-income students in poorly performing schools, I am appalled, not because a small number of low-income children might receive vouchers for a better education but because this does nothing to improve poorly performing schools for the rest of Tennessee’s children.
According to the Tennessee Department of Education, more than half of Tennessee’s students are classified as “economically disadvantaged,” and the vast majority of Tennessee’s 167 “focus” schools (the lowest-performing 5 percent of public schools in the state) are Title I schools, meaning a significant number of students come from low-income families. Are we going to provide vouchers for all of them?
If charter/private schools are so good we want our best low-income performers to attend them, why aren’t we modeling our public schools after these innovators? If many of our failing schools are in low-income areas, why not pool property tax resources and fund all schools on a per-student basis — or even provide more resources to economically disadvantaged schools to make up for resources the community lacks? If our public schools are failing our students, why aren’t we focusing on fixing them rather than bleeding them of resources? Do vouchers really seem to walk the talk of our constitution?
Our legislators must seriously address the roots of the problem rather than slapping an inadequate bandage over it.