By JC Bowman
Special to The Enterprise
Governor Bill Lee’s latest statewide voucher proposal is being heavily influenced by out-of-state interests. The proposal has the potential to severely impact the financial stability of public schools in Tennessee, which are currently in the process of implementing a new funding formula, followed shortly by a new letter-grade system for schools.
Professional Educators of Tennessee oppose the statewide expansion of vouchers.
Here is why:
There is a lack of quality, accredited private schools in most rural and suburban areas, as well as a current teacher shortage. The proposal is not expected to provide significant benefits to most students in the state, as the voucher will not likely cover the full cost of tuition at a private school. Additionally, Governor Lee will need to address the fact that test scores for students who participated in the pilot voucher program were lower than those of their public-school peers during the program’s first year in 2022-23. With an administration that is data-driven, why not demonstrate success in the pilot project first? What accountability measures will be put in place in the voucher program? Parents should know how every school performs and who the educators are instructing their children, just as they do in public schools.
Thus far, Governor Lee has missed an opportunity to collaborate with educators in Tennessee to create policies that support the expansion of public-school choice. Such policies would benefit both students and parents. Parents should have more authority over their children’s education by being given the option to transfer them to other public schools, either within or outside their district, through interdistrict or intradistrict public school choice programs. Legislative efforts should be focused on breaking down the bureaucratic barriers that keep educators and school districts from pursuing effective solutions to the unique challenges of their communities.
The Lee Administration has never understood that school choice is not simply about private school vouchers. It should also include public magnet schools, career academies, district-supported charter schools, Advanced Placement (AP) Programs, International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programs, and other dual enrollment options. It is important for schools to actively engage with homeschooling families and offer opportunities for their children to participate in regular classes, including vocational and technical programs, either at their designated school or at another school with available capacity, under open enrollment policies.
Editor’s note: JC Bowman is executive director of Professional Educators of Tennessee.