For the second year, Gov. Bill Haslam’s voucher proposal has been dropped in the legislature. The bill would have given parents of children in struggling public schools taxpayer money to help pay for private school tuition.
Rep. Bill Dunn of Knoxville, who was carrying the bill for the governor, said he didn’t have enough votes to pass the measure. As a result, he withdrew the meausre from the House Education Committee — not long after it had passed in the Senate.
The bill’s failure comes in the face of heavy lobbying from national education reform groups like StudentsFirst and the American Federation for Children.
Claiming vouchers give a chance for students to escape failing public schools, Rep. Dunn said the House Education Committee’s lack of support is a sign they are “siding with the system.”
Jim Wrye, a lobbyist for the Tennessee Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, argued voucher programs carve out real money from public schools.
“They have the opportunity to open charter schools, take over any other schools where the test scores are low,” Wrye said. “They should take that course, rather than doing something untried and what could really open Pandora’s box for the destruction of public schools in Tennessee.”
Rep. Dunn counters vouchers make public schools work harder to keep their students. He says in states that have let parents use public money for children to go to public schools,“there’s suddenly competition to keep the children there. It’s not gutting public schools. It’s really helping them.”
Haslam’s voucher proposal, also called opportunity scholarships, divided lawmakers over how many students could be eligible — and over whether eligibility should extend to the bottom 5, or bottom 10 poercent of failing schools.
According to the American Federation for Children, 17 states have some kind of voucher program.