Even If Vouchers Pass, Vanderbilt Expert Finds Few Available Seats At Private Schools

Dr. Claire Smrekar has a particular research focus on school choices, such as charter schools. Credit: Steve Green / Vanderbilt

Dr. Claire Smrekar has a particular research focus on school choices, such as charter schools. Credit: Steve Green / Vanderbilt

Many students who would qualify for private school vouchers would still have nowhere to go, according to a top education researcher at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College. Associate professor Claire Smrekar finds few private schools are interested in accepting vouchers and those who would don’t have that much room.

Smrekar’s research zeroed in on Memphis, since that’s where most of the students would qualify under the current voucher proposals. The only schools that are eager to accept vouchers as tuition payment are affiliated with the Catholic Diocese. And they only have space for 400 to 500 students. Nearly ten times that many in Memphis would be eligible for a voucher.

“I think some lawmakers will be surprised that demand will exceed supply in Memphis, and that’s a fact. Demand will exceed supply, period.”

Lawmakers have been operating off of estimates from a voucher advocacy group that suggests there are 20,000 open seats in private schools. But Smrekar says that figure is statewide when the voucher proposal is limited primarily to Memphis and Nashville.

Smrekar presented her preliminary findings at a conference in Philadelphia. They have not  been published yet.

Vouchers may not get off the ground this year anyway. While widely supported in the legislature, the proposal is currently held up in finance committees.

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