Educational Vouchers the Next Test Case in Tennessee?

Kelsey bill would seem to have green light in 2013 General Assembly, but similar legislation in Louisiana was struck down in court.

Posted by Jackson Baker on Sat, Dec 1, 2012 at 11:22 AM

Sate Senator Brian Kelsey conferring with Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris during the 2012 legislative session
  • jb
  • Sate Senator Brian Kelsey conferring with Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris during the 2012 legislative session
The municipal-school issue, subject of this past week’s Mays ruling on the unconstitutionality of 2012 legislation enabling new districts in Shelby County may not be the only piece of Tennessee education-related legislation destined for the courtroom.

A state judge in Louisiana has just struck down a voucher system in that state whereby public funds were allocated for private institutions.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/wp/2012/11/30/la-judge-bobby-jindal-school-voucher-program-unconstitutional/?wprss=rss_politics

Critics of voucher programs maintain that they subvert public school education and divert needed funding from established school networks.

Tennessee is right up on the cutting edge of this issue, with a long-pending voucher bill from Germantown state Senator Brian Kelsey certain to get serious consideration in the forthcoming 2013 session of the General Assembly. A “task force” convened by Governor Bill Haslam has reportedly already conferred its approval of the voucher process as a component of Haslam’s educational reform agenda.

The major question remaining would seem to be how soon and just what would be in the bill. Here’s an item from this week’s Tennessee Journal on the shape of things to come from Ron Ramsey, the state’s lieutenant governor and speaker of the state Senate, and the most influential state official other than Haslam himself..

Vouchers. Ramsey did say that in appointing the Education Committee, he plans to make sure there are sufficient votes for an “opportunity scholarship,” or voucher, program.

Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown), who attended an education conference in Washington this week, is expected to sponsor a voucher bill. A task force on the issue submitted its report Thursday to Gov. Bill Haslam, who may offer legislation.

The task force agreed any voucher bill should target low-income students. It found consensus in some areas but in others simply laid out a range of options.

Comments (140)

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@Jackson

Can you interview Kelsey and ask what the heck the rationale is behind such a voucher system? I understand it is aimed at low income children, but how is it going to help them? Exactly?

Is the proposed money going to the parent the state's BEP money?

I feel real queasy about the prospect of my tax money flowing into private schools. Publically approved Charter Schools, sure. But private schools, often controlled by religious groups, not so much. If Kelsey can demonstrate a clear and certain benefit to these poor children, maybe , but I still would be very uneasy.

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Posted by ArlingtonPop on 12/01/2012 at 2:37 PM

Do you mean publicly approved outcomes or just flat public approval? If the latter, what right has the public to tell an individual parent what method to use in achieving a common outcome?

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Posted by Honey Nuts on 12/01/2012 at 2:47 PM

he's a teabagging wingnut wannabe U.S Congressman who is part and parcel of the radical Right Wing's hatred of, and desire to dismantle public education in this country, that's the explanation. They detest the very IDEA of public education and they are true believing radicals.

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Posted by Wacojohnnydean on 12/01/2012 at 2:50 PM

@ Honey nuts

i don't think the public does have a right to tell a parent what method to use to achieve a common outcome. I do think the public earns that right when said parent uses public money to achieve that outcome.

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Posted by ArlingtonPop on 12/01/2012 at 3:10 PM

I'm confused.

I hate to think in these terms about innocent schoolchildren. For example, a public school child is "worth" $8,000.00 in 'Fill in the Blank Town, TN' over in 'Wherever in the Heck County, TN.' Would the voucher be for $8,000.00, and if so, who would pay the difference?

Or, is this something which would be like a sliding scale fee of sorts? Would the income of the impoverished child's household come into play for the voucher in a manner somewhat akin to Financial Aid for University? Would a private school of any ilk cover the difference in some way? Some private schools as well as boarding schools have certain programs in place for that and some don't (unsolved variable in the equation, that) and I do not think the state could force ever single last private school in Tennessee to be on the same page with that all out of the blue like.

Then, with charter schools, they are still somewhat new here as near as I can gather. The state may or may not have someone whose job it will be to oversee them before too long for all anyone should know. Would they also be considered in this? Or, would only certain types of charter schools be considered? Is not their funding way different than private school anyway? Will the less reputable ones be double dipping and whatnot in terms of funding and financing and the like and perhaps inflate their costs (I am making reference to less than reputable ones, not all of them.

So what is the actual plan as such a thing pertains to Tennessee? It seems to me that there is a bit too much perhaps not being made mention of on this situation. It's not like the Kroger Savings card or something when it comes to vouchers, this is a rather serious issue which does not seem to have been fully fleshed out yet.

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Posted by merlin on 12/01/2012 at 3:22 PM

Pop,

Are you saying that the parent isn't part of the public? How does that happen? Did they become that way when the taxes were levied? How did that happen? It's not like these are common roads or a machine of war. The "object" in question is a successful student. Isn't that right?

Frankly, I think of the public school system as a crossroad wherein our disparate cultures meet. Without the common system, the republic cannot survive. Yet, I cannot wrap my head around why the common outcome required must remove disparate methods and means, especially given that the removal is achieved via taxing authority.

Why not levy the tax and then deepened it toward whatever method or means a given parent may choose if the means and method can be shown to achieve the common goal?

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Posted by Honey Nuts on 12/01/2012 at 4:22 PM

should say "dispense", not deepened".

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Posted by HN on 12/01/2012 at 4:25 PM

@merlin

I agree with all you said.

I suppose we will just have to wait and see the plan.

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Posted by ArlingtonPop on 12/01/2012 at 5:29 PM

@HN

Ah, I now see your point.

The problem is, in the case of religious schools, achievement of the goal implies favoring one religion over another, and I don't think that will work. In addition, expenditure of public funds should be accompanied by some sort of public oversight and I don't know how you achieve that when those funds go to private schools. Classic Approach-Avoid senario.

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Posted by ArlingtonPop on 12/01/2012 at 5:35 PM

Go to www.tennesse.gov and look on the right side and you will see the following link to the task force report.

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Posted by still living in Berclair on 12/01/2012 at 6:16 PM

Pop,

How so? How does requiring that the citizenry obtain an education equate to the favoring of one religion?

I don't follow your reasoning.

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Posted by Honey Nuts on 12/01/2012 at 6:20 PM

HN

It is not having a requirement that the citizenry obtain an education that is the issue.

The issue is how that is to be accomplished. If , for example, we say that these public funds can be spent at any school that is sponsored by a certain religious order, and as part of the child's training in that school he is required to take part in religious instruction (and he/she will be certainly required to do that) it is not a stretch to assert the government is favoring that religion over another who does not so sponsor a school.

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Posted by ArlingtonPop on 12/01/2012 at 10:24 PM

I don't follow you here, Pop. The kids of those who are members of religions that don't have schools will still have ADA money paid to wherever they attend school. I just don't see any discrimination. There are simply too many religions to reasonably expect they all could ever afford to start a school, and the law should always be reasonable.

FWIW, the voucher bill was discussed at the CA, and is still sitting around waiting for approval. The bill calls for kids who are eligible for free or reduced lunches to receive a voucher for half of their ADA money ($5400 in Memphis) to attend any private school that will admit them. The school will have to accept the voucher as payment in full.

I think the reason it is limited to low-income students is if the eligibility requirements were raised to include more students, it could eventually make those already in private schools eligible for the program payments, which would be an incremental cost because their families are currently picking up the whole tab. Of course, if one were the suspicious type, one could suspect this is a gateway program that will open the door to public payments to private schools for all students who choose to attend them somewhere down the road.

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Posted by GWCarver on 12/02/2012 at 10:12 AM

GWCarver

You, for one time, have made an astute observation. This is the crack in the door that will lower the cost of education on the state.

Tennessee, like a lot of states, especially southern, use fee systems to get around their obligation to provide for services that are supposed to be free according to their state' s constitution. Public education in the public schools are supposed to be 100% free. Well, how has that worked out? Look at all of the things a parent have to pay for? It simply saves the state money by having parents pay for, directly, what should be 100% free. If your child is taking honors Geometry, why should the parent have to spend $100 or more for a graphing calulator? Get the point?

As far as private schools, all private schools are not created equal. Private schools do not have more equipment than public schools, nor are the teachers any more specialized and/or qualified than their public school counterparts. The difference in the private schools versus the public schools is that of the circumstances of the parents, those that can afford to pay the high tuition. Those are usually 100% two family homes. Educated above the norm for the area, incomes quite substantial compared to the rest of the area. This, within itself makes for better students. In other words, those students from those affluent, highly educated families, are exposed to education more in their everyday home life than the rest of us. Being that as the cse, the student will invariably outperform their lower classed conterparts.

You will end up with tiered private schools. The affluent, highly educated parents will keep sending their children to expensive schools, those tuitions
will rise dramatically, so as to keep the gulf between the have mores and the haves and have not. You will have middle level private schools, mainly Catholic Schools and others for the haves, nothing more than private Charter Schools that serve a select few. Then you will have the lower tier of private schools, not really distinguishable from public schools. You will not have made anything better, just shifed less cost from the state. In education, just as everything else, one gets what one pays for. $5,400 dollars for private school just won't get you much these days.

I am not talking about race here, I am talking about a caste system that will not benefit the masses of parents in Tennessee.

Be careful of the state bearing gifts, for it is never cracked up to what you think it will be.

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Posted by oldtimeplayer on 12/02/2012 at 11:54 AM

"FWIW, the voucher bill was discussed at the CA, and is still sitting around waiting for approval. The bill calls for kids who are eligible for free or reduced lunches to receive a voucher for half of their ADA money ($5400 in Memphis) to attend any private school that will admit them. The school will have to accept the voucher as payment in full."



Super! That is what I was wondering about, GWCarver.

Can the public schoolchild who is in that "free or reduced lunch" circumstance attend a private school or boarding school which is located outside of their public school district?

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Posted by merlin on 12/02/2012 at 12:32 PM

GW,

I really don't know as much as I need to on exactly how this voucher system will work, or where the money that will go the private schools will come from, and I concur that the law must be reasonable.

I just can't get around the fact that this is public money going to a private enterprise, escaping public scrutiny, and at the same time taking that money away from public education. Perhaps I need to think deeper on that, but it just does not seem right to me. Yet, anyway.

I also conceed the point that it is not reasonable to expect every religion to open up their own school.

That is really interesting information that any private school that admits them would have to take the voucher payment as payment in full for tuition. I wonder how realistic it is to expect these private schools to take in such children unless they are either academically or athletically gifted? If I read you right, then each student's parents would get $2700 ( one half of the county ADA of $5400) to spend. Don't know how far that would go in a private school unless there are other considerations.

I also don't know about the state not using its own BEP funds to fund the program rather than requiring the county to use their ADA money. Some counties have a very small ADA contribution in comparison to Shelby County.

What is apparent, and I think we all can agree on this, is that the legislature is determined to change the way education services are delivered in Tennessee. I have posted before that I had a conversation with one of our state legislators a little while ago and he said that the legislature was "tired of hearing about how bad the education system is in Tennessee and "damn" tired of hearing how bad it was in Memphis, and they were going to do something about it."

Goodness knows, they are sure doing something. But to what result?

Please keep the information coming about this voucher plan. If any other particulars come out, please post them.

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Posted by ArlingtonPop on 12/02/2012 at 12:33 PM

GWC

That is the whole point. Do you really think that giving public dollars to a private enterprise with no rigid accountability is really going to make a difference. Do you know of any good, private school, that 5,400 dollars will assure a poverty ridden child any chance of a better education that they can get in the public schools.

The problem with that state legislators statement that they were going to do something about education in the state, especially Memphis is very mis-leading. They aren't proposing to do anything better, just shift the cost and responsibility away from where it belongs, the state.

The schools in Tennessee are not failing, the kids that make up the student body are failing. These are twq distinctly different things. First of all, the state constitution says that the state must offer an oppotunity for a good, basic, quality, free education for all of its kids. The key words in this statement are, OPPOTUNITY, AND BASIC. Those are two profound words. They automatically reduces the states liability for the failure of an individual student. They are also relieved of extra cost for, honors programs, AP, IB, and or Optional programs. In other words, if you want those programs, since they are not basic, pay for them yourselves.

It brings to mind a court case, about 15 or so years ago, in California. The parents of a student sued the state of California for failing to adequately tteach their son. He graduated, however, his reading ability was only about the 4th or fifth grade level, same with math and social studies. Well, California is one of the most, if not the most, liberal states in the union, however, the parents lost the case. In essence, the judge ruled that the state was only liable for the oppotunity of the student to get a basic, good, quality education. The state nor the school, where facilities and staff were adequate, could be blamed for the individual failure of any child that did not avail themselves of that oppotunity. There were other simular suits of this type filed in subsequen years in many other states. The ruling was the same.

It is ironic for this state legislator to say this when he/she knows what it would take to better educate the children. It is a tried and true technique that has worked for over a thousand years. It is called, smaller class sizes and the dropping of the pass/fail every year.

Teachers and administrators have to have the time to give specialized instruction, tailored to the childs need without the time constraint of doing it in a specified, rigid, timeframe. If you take a failing class of 30 students and break them down into 2 classes with 15 students and take the timeframe away on passing, you would see immediate results. Teachers would be able to spend time with the students that needed it most. They wouldn't be concentrating on an arbitrary time frame for success, but on success itself. I know that to many of you college graduates, you think that it is too simplistic. But, people, it has worked for thousands of years and it works now. The only problem is that it would cost the state more money than it, or you, the taxpayers are willing to spend. In other words, the system that is employed today is geared toward expediency, not success. MOVE THEM IN, MOVE THEM OUT!

Successful, prestigous, high tuition private schools use this technique. They also have an added advantage of dealing with the cream of the crop They don't have to deal with the social problems of undereducated parents, physcological problems brought on by abject poverty. The tuition is high for two reasons. They have to pay good salaries to top teachers and they need more teachers because of the small classes and the other is to separate the good from the bad.

Why do you think that, in the old days, Kings, Pharoahs, etc were so smart? They were tutored individually or in very, very small groups. The military use the same concept. Why do you think a squad consist of only 10 or 11 members? Easy, smaller class sizes. You teach the squad leaders what they need to know and it is passed down to the rest of the squar, small classes.

So, the next time you talk to that state legislator, tell him to read my post and answer to it. Maybe he/she can enlighten me.

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Posted by oldtimeplayer on 12/02/2012 at 1:28 PM

"the way education services are delivered." Well, that is quite a revealing choice of words, although I'm not sure AP meant anything by it. Because, after all, in an Ayn Rand money is the only denominator world and the only thing that really matters is business, public education becomes "delivered education services." Input vs. outcomes. Product. Corporatization. Nice.

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Posted by ransomstoddard on 12/02/2012 at 1:30 PM

@RS

No, nothing meant by that at all, and I am hardly a fan of Ayn Rand style capitalism. Although funding education does seem to be a public issue at present. I would be glad to use another choice of words. What do you suggest?

OTP: I don't talk to that man very often and I don't know if he even knows who you are, much less care to respond to you. But I will ask him next time we cross paths. And I don't recall saying he knew what the answer was. I think the legislature is going to keep trying different things until they hit on something that works.

Perhaps a better way for your ideas to be put into place is for you to get on the Unified BOE. A couple of slots are due to be filled by the SCC shortly and you could try for one of those if you don't want to have to mount a campaign. That way, your ideas could get a full public hearing instead of just being stuck on a message board. Seems a shame for you to toil in such obscurity. I think you said something to the effect you have your big boy pants on? Here is a chance for you to show us.

Or even better, you could run for the state legislature. Give it some thought.

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Posted by ArlingtonPop on 12/02/2012 at 1:51 PM

AP

I could never get elected or appointed. I really don't believe in lying for a vote. I also don't care whose toes I step on as long as results are possible.

I am just saying, if one really want to improve education, there is but one proven way that has stood the test of time; smaller classes.

Toiling in obscurity, as you put it, is not a bad thing. Other people, including elected officials read these post too. So, even if in vain, I still tried and will keep using this proven technique to bolster the kids in my family with their education.

That is what men who wear the big underwear do. They do the best that they can do in the venue they have available and hope. If the vast public does not respond, jus use your ability to make a difference in your own family.

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Posted by oldtimeplayer on 12/02/2012 at 2:39 PM

OPT

I appreciate your point about making the difference in your own family, but you obviously post on this board to express your opinions.

It just seems common sense that if you want to make a difference in the community, those opinions need to be expressed to a wider audience. The best way to do that is is get a higher profile. You don't have to lie, you don't even have to win. Just just have to be heard by wider audience than you can find here.

You can do this. I know it involves some risk on your part, but that is what that big boy underware is for.

I will even pledge, right here and now, to make a $100 cash contribution to your campaign, and I am not kidding.

Go for it.

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Posted by ArlingtonPop on 12/02/2012 at 3:29 PM

The risk I don't mind. I am 68 years old and not in the best of health. Those are some of the considerations that I am thinking about.

I was hoping, through this forum, some of the people will start asking the tough, but simple questions about true education reform. I can get beyond my personal feelings, my innate prejudices to actually try to make a difference.

I am afraid that this debate is so clouded with personal feelings that even the more fortunate people of this county are going to be duped and thus, their children will also suffer.

There are no magic incantations or clever moves that will improve this situation and it will not happen overnight. It will take simple measures, hardwork and perseverance to make it work. Smaller classes, back to the basics and taking the rigid timeframe off of showing progress. It may even have to go to class shaping. Pretesting all students and placing them in the academic groups that they truly measure, not the ones that are appropiate to their age or last report card. Yes, we might have to group like students and track them. In that arrangement, the ones that are making standars can move forward, while the ones that are behind can be given the neccessary time and effort that it takes to get them up to speed. I would make this pre-testing mandatory, for, how can we hold a teacher responsible when he/she have no idea what they are working with. I would not allow schools to become resegregated, however, I would refrain from cross busing or reasigning students from their neighborhoods for the pure sake of intergration.

These are just some of the things that I would first focus on, if my health would allow me the opotunity to run and/or serve. Me failing to do so, I thought that Homersimpson, GroveReb, etc would want to carry the mantle for this type of change.

About that $100; close to Xmas, on a fixed income, could use it now. LOL

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Posted by oldtimeplayer on 12/02/2012 at 5:17 PM

"There are no magic incantations or clever moves that will improve this situation and it will not happen overnight. It will take simple measures, hardwork and perseverance to make it work. Smaller classes, back to the basics and taking the rigid timeframe off of showing progress. It may even have to go to class shaping. Pretesting all students and placing them in the academic groups that they truly measure, not the ones that are appropiate to their age or last report card. Yes, we might have to group like students and track them. In that arrangement, the ones that are making standars can move forward, while the ones that are behind can be given the neccessary time and effort that it takes to get them up to speed. I would make this pre-testing mandatory, for, how can we hold a teacher responsible when he/she have no idea what they are working with. I would not allow schools to become resegregated, however, I would refrain from cross busing or reasigning students from their neighborhoods for the pure sake of intergration."

"taking the rigid timeframe off of showing progress." I take it that is another name for letting students fail and getting rid of social promotion.

"group like students and track them." That will be a tough sell to the public, but the correct one.

"I would make this pre-testing mandatory," Agree that is a better way to measure the progress of the kids.

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Posted by TruthBeTold on 12/02/2012 at 6:12 PM

First, the voucher is for $5400, not half. $5400 is half of the current ADD funding.

Second, $5400 would pay a major portion of most private schools in town. It is more than I pay now. Yes, there are many over this amount and I doubt they would take the vouchers in the first place. Several of the "big" private schools are actually in a downsizing phase deciding that quality is preferable to quantity. MUS is accepting 20 less freshman next year, increasing the competition and forfeiting $400,000 in tuition.

Third, as to accountability. The TN public system uses TCAP as the measure of academic achievement from grades 3-8. This test is neither reliable or valid. It has been in constant flux since inception. In 2009 there were major changes to the TN standards that in turn made major changes to the testing - this is when the state scores plummeted. This year, 15% of the TCAP test will be based on the future common core standards. Yep, they are testing your kids on standards that are not in place as of yet. In two years TCAP will be gone and Common Core testing will be the measure.

Private schools use national tests that are both reliable and valid from decades of use for testing. Not to mention that the annual sample size is vastly higher than the TCAP size.

On a side note, one of my younger children took both the Standford Achievement and the TCAP last year. Her school was curious to see how they stacked up against public schools. She score in the 93% on the Standford and 100% on the TCAP. On several tests she received perfect scores.

So AP - my question to you. The supreme court has already said that vouchers are constitutional since the parents get to chose the school, even if it is religious. If a parent does not object to the religious tilt at a particular school, why should you?

By the way, the Catholic system runs a couple of schools in the inner city where tuition is FREE. They serve a huge need for parents that are looking for a respectable academic environment for their children. It is safe, secure, with dedicated teachers. I believe they receive some Title I funding for food services since all the kids are considered disadvantaged. These are exceptional schools.

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Posted by homersimpson on 12/02/2012 at 6:38 PM

Homer

I hate to tell you this, but, the state court is where this fight will be waged, not federal court. There is no right to a public education in the federal constitution nor in any federal legislative laws. This has been a misception for many, many years. The only time the feds have anything to do with public education is, if a state provide it, it must be equal.

That is why a judge in Louisiana struck down their voucher law, state court not federal. Federal law is the law of the land on federal and constitutional rights questions. But, the federal court only states a floor, minimum, not a ceiling on rights. A state can give more rights than the federal courts mandate, but it cannot give less.

But, public education in the several states are a 10th amendment concern, states rights, not federal.

Again, Homersimpson, you are wrong.

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Posted by oldtimeplayer on 12/02/2012 at 8:15 PM
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