Voucher Bill Stalls in Tennessee

by Anne-Marie Farmer”

child speakingThis is a week for good news.  We need those now and then.  Here’s a report from the LWV Tennessee.

Anne Marie says: “It really does matter when you stay informed and speak up!”

This article celebrates a victory for one of the League of Women Voter’s major legislative priorities. Over and over again, news media and pundits predicted that there was no stopping the effort to bring private school vouchers to TennesA win for public education and proof that it really DOES matter when you stay informed and speak up!see in 2016. Vouchers were seen by many as an inevitability this year. The Republican supermajority, the Governor’s support for vouchers, and the fact that, since 2011, pro-voucher groups Students First and the American Federation for Children spent almost $1 million on Tennessee legislative races…. It seemed like a perfect storm.

Yet, on Thursday, February 11, when HB 1049 was set for a vote, voucher sponsor Rep. Bill Dunn moved to “lay the bill on the clerk’s desk,” stating that after four years of carrying the voucher legislation, he simply did not have enough support for it to pass. Under this procedural move, the bill can be revived during this legislative session, although Rep. Dunn indicated that is unlikely.

The voucher bill had already passed the state Senate, and made it closer to becoming law than ever before when it passed the House finance committee. Originally set for a House floor vote on February 8, the bill was clearly in trouble when Rep. Dunn quickly asked that the vote be delayed to February 11, the day when embattled Rep. Jeremy Durham, a fierce voucher supporter, returned to the Legislature. In addition, a last minute amendment that purported to restrict vouchers to Shelby County was filed in an attempt to win over those Republican legislators who do not want vouchers to affect their local public school districts. Even with this amendment, legislators simply did not embrace the voucher proposal.

What made the difference and turned the tide against the voucher proposal? Clearly, many legislators have been paying attention and understood why vouchers are bad policy. Republican Rep. John Holsclaw of Elizabethton told the Johnson City Press, “Vouchers will take money away from our already underfunded public schools and will give taxpayer dollars to private schools. According to the fiscal note, over $216 million will be taken out of our public school system in order to support the voucher program over the next five years.” He also noted that vouchers do not improve student achievement, that struggling students with a voucher are unlikely to be accepted into private schools. Further, he stated, “This voucher bill does nothing to address the issues that are facing our public schools, where most students are and will remain,” Holsclaw said. “This bill does not address over testing of students, underfunding of schools, lack of resources for teachers, lack of resources for students, or the technology gap that separates our best schools from our worst.”

What may have made the biggest difference of all were the Tennessee teachers, local government leaders, parents, and citizens, including members of the League of Women Voters who rallied to contact legislators and urge them to vote no. Several legislators noted the large number of calls they received from constituents asking them to vote no. It is truly heartening when a determined effort among citizens wins the day against deep pocketed special interests. A win for public education and proof that it really DOES matter when you stay informed and speak up!

Posted in Legislation, Tennessee, Vouchers.

2 Comments

  1. Bravo, Anne-Marie Farmer and the Tennessee LWV. The tide is beginning to change against the privatization of our public school system. In Florida, however, there appears to be a movement afoot among legislators to change the state constitution. In November, voters will decide if charter authorization should remain with the district elected school board or a state level authorizing agency.

    Placed on the ballot for a constitutional amendment would be a proposition to combine counties into one school district.

    The “Opportunity School District” (OSD)) is a proposed statewide take over district that would allow the state to seize control of “failing” schools for between 5 & 10 years.

    The Center for Popular Democracy reported, in this past year 11 states have passed or debated legislation to allow state officials to take over struggling public schools, disenfranchising local communities and paving the way for the privatization of the education system.

    The proliferation of take over districts resulted in the Center for Popular Democracy to report:
    1. There is no clear evidence that takeover districts actually achieve their goal of radically improving performance at failing schools.
    2. Children have seen negligible improvement or even dramatic setbacks to their education.
    3. State takeover districts have created a breeding ground for fraud and mismanagement at the public expense.
    4. Staff face high turnover and instability, creating harsh discipline measures and discrimination practices that further entrench a two tiered educational system.

    What I am learning from people in the Tennessee LWV is that we never, never, give up. The LWVPBC education committee members are sending 39 cent post cards to legislators in education committees and appropriation committees explaining our position. If each education committee in the 67 districts would get on the band wagon for change and call or send post cards to legislators we would see a difference. This is an election year and legislators will be listening.

    • Things are moving very fast, or I should say slowly? in Tallahassee. Friday, the constitutional amendment for the state charter system was put on hold. The only bill on Wednesday’s Appropriation Committee is Stargel’s bill SB 830 which has the High Impact Charter districts. It also has some improvements in charter regulation. We are not sure what Sen. Gaetz will propose to counter the attack on district’s local capital outlay millage. Stay tuned.

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