Friday, December 16, 2011

Volunteers Forego Vouchers in Favor of Governor's Task Force

Well, it looks like students in the Volunteer State may have to wait another year.

Governor Bill Haslam says he isn’t ready to bring vouchers to the state, but instead will set up a task force to study how vouchers would work in Tennessee.

The task force will have nine members, including Senator Brian Kelsey (R-Collierville)—one of the original sponsors of school choice legislation earlier this year—Richard Montgomery (R-Sevierville), chairman of the House Education Committee, former Senator Jamie Woodson of Knoxville, and State Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman, who will chair the committee.

The group is tasked with seeking “to provide meaningful education options to disadvantaged students," according to the Knoxville News Sentinel.

To save the task force some time—and so they can get right to work on creating real educational options for disadvantaged students today—we thought we’d get a head start on what vouchers could mean for Tennessee:
  • High Graduation Rates:  School choice programs have high graduation rates.  The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program is a prime example, with scholarship students graduating at a rate of 91 percent, 21 percentage points higher than those interested in the program who did not receive a scholarship.  And in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, students graduate at a higher rate (7.2 percent higher) than their public school counterparts.
  • High Academic Achievement: Students in school choice programs achieve better academic results.  The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program demonstrated “the largest achievement impact of any education policy program yet evaluated” by the U.S. Department of Education, and those students received the equivalent of an extra three months of learning.
  • High Parental Satisfaction: Parents show high levels of satisfaction in school choice programs—well over 90 percent in most cases—all across the country, the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program to Louisiana’s Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence Program.
Despite the evidence, Tennessee’s elected officials are choosing to wait. What they seem not to understand is that children stuck in failing schools don’t have time to wait.

Some, however, do get it.

Senator Kelsey, who will sit on the governor’s task force, sponsored the aforementioned legislation that would provide scholarships to students eligible under the federal free and reduced-price lunch program in Knox, Davidson, Hamilton, and Shelby Counties—the four largest counties in the state.  Scholarship would be awarded up to $5,400.

And last year, the state Senate actually passed similar legislation championed by Representative Bill Dunn (R-Knoxville). The bill failed to pass the House.

Let’s listen to school choice champions like Dunn and Kelsey. They know that the time is now to bring real options to Tennessee families.

- American Federation for Children | Alliance for School Choice, MSG

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