By Victor Skinner
NASHVILLE – Tennessee lawmakers are trying to decide between two options for a new private school voucher program: a limited approach or a full-scale system open to most families.
The Tennessee Education Association, the statewide teachers union, meanwhile, is still trying to convince the public vouchers are a bad idea. The union recently spent $40,000 on television ads to denounce the whole idea of allowing parents to choose the school that best fits their child.
“Diverting public money to private entities strips our public schools of the funds needed to provide a quality education for every child,” TEA president Gera Summerford wrote in an op-ed, according to the Associated Press.
Tennessee lawmakers obviously disagree.
Gov. Bill Haslam and Knoxville state Rep. Bill Dunn are promoting legislation to create a small voucher program targeted to students in low-performing public schools with a family income under $42,643 for a family of four, KnoxNews.com reports.
The Tennessee Choice and Opportunity Scholarship Act, as it’s called, would be limited to 5,000 students the first year and increase to 20,000 by 2016. That proposal passed the House Government Operations Committee and is headed to the House Finance Committee, according to the news site.
A competing bill would increase the financial eligibility limit to $70,000 for a family of four and would not limit the number of participants or require them to come from low-performing schools.
Haslam “wants to take a measured approach and look at data and information and see how things are working, and make decisions based on that,” state Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman told KnoxNews.com.
Some of his Republican colleagues in the state legislature are apparently convinced that the potential benefits of school choice are directly proportionate to the number of families that have access to those choices. The more families that are eligible, the bigger impact school choice will have for students in both public and private schools.
But the teachers union seems to have its head stuck in the sand, and is stubbornly refusing to acknowledge the critical role vouchers have played in improving the futures of thousands of students across the country. In numerous states, private and parochial schools are making impressive academic strides with students who languished in their public schools.
If union officials are really sincere in their desire to “provide a quality education for every child,” they would support friendly competition with private schools that would motivate all schools to strive for excellence to recruit students.
Instead, the TEA seems focused on maintaining a public education monopoly that continues to fail students across the state every year.