by Anne-Marie Farmer”
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!