A group of education thinkers from around the country celebrated school voucher programs at a Nashville event organized by one of the conservative billionaire Koch brothers. The out-of-state advocacy comes months after state lawmakers failed to pass a voucher bill.
Steve Perry, a Connecticut public school principal who favors market-driven reforms, dominated the forum. Speaking to the some 100 attendees, Perry said the easiest way to save a disadvantaged student from a failing school is to offer public money to pay for private tuition.
“There’s absurdity to the notion that, by virtue of the fact that you live in a community, that you have to go to that school. That it somehow sentences you, in some cases, to a lifetime of underperformance.”
Perry mentioned Tennessee’s nationally recognized charter school movement, something welcomed by conservatives, while also pointing out that school vouchers have yet to gain traction, which, he said, seems incongruous in a Republican-driven state.
“That’s why it’s surprising to me, that in Tennessee, you don’t have a strong voucher program,” he said. “You have a Republican governor. A supermajority of Republicans. And yet, you don’t have a voucher program. I’m confused.”
Critics say vouchers siphon money away from public schools districts to benefit private and religious schools.
The Koch-fueled programs on issues other than education, like criminal justice reform, have made stops in Austin and Oklahoma City, among other cities.