Some state lawmakers say Tennessee’s consistent ranking in the mid-forties for education means it’s time to consider a school vouchers program. It would reroute money meant for public schools, to instead help some parents pay private school tuition. WPLN’s Daniel Potter heard opinions from several parents about vouchers, and has this story.
Vouchers aim to give parents another choice, if they don’t love their kid’s public school. Parents who are weighing their options can be found at events like the open-house at Nashville’s historic West End Middle School. Around 40 percent of West End’s fifth-graders come from outside the school zone.
Jamieson: “We cannot go to the gymnasium because… it has been crossed out.”
Eighth-grader Emerson Jamieson fields questions from prospective students and their parents as he steers a class-size pack through the school. The walkthrough is part of Metro’s campaign to convince parents they have plenty of good options.
Rachel Jackson lives in Donelson, a good ten miles across town. She’s visiting with her husband and their 10-year-old daughter.
Jackson: “The reason we’re here is we’re zoned for a school that I don’t want to send her to.”
Jackson says they’ve toured several of Metro’s sought-after magnet schools. They never really considered private schools because of the cost.
Jackson: “A voucher program would be very appealing to me to be able to do that.”
Average private school tuition in Nashville is steep – around nine thousand dollars a year. That’s far more than what the state pays public schools for each student. And voucher-backers hope not to leave parents to cover the difference, since the program would likely target poor families.
Burton: “I’m a single parent and I have four kids.”
Autumn Burton says she’d also be interested in vouchers. Her son Keith goes to a charter– Smithson Craighead – which the school board just voted to shut down. He used to attend a traditional Metro school, where Burton says no one pushed him academically, and no one called unless there was a problem. Now, she’d love a way to afford private school.
Burton: “Even if I have to work that third job, I’m going to do it, so that my kids can succeed. And I don’t feel like they will succeed in Metro schools.”
Israel: “That is not everyone’s experience. We could’ve moved to another county, and we could’ve selected other schools, and we haven’t.”
Tiffany Israel thinks Metro gets a bad rap, but that’s not everyone’s experience. She has two kids in elementary school, and a fifth-grader at West End.
Israel: “You can always be better, but it’s not this big bad ugly place – I don’t think it’s a broken institution.”
Israel doesn’t believe a voucher system would necessarily siphon public money away, saying it might even be workable. But she’d prefer an effort to improve traditional schools.
And private schools aren’t necessarily stellar, says Cate Blount. She pulled her daughter out of one, saying its extracurricular activities seemed to distract from its basic academics. Blount does not want tax dollars to fund private education.
Blount: “I feel that if you want to send your child to private school, then it should be paid for by you. Hence the reason it’s called private school, not public.”
Another mom echoed that sentiment, saying if public schools don’t seem good enough, sending their money elsewhere won’t make them better.