The legislature is moving quickly to pass voucher legislation. They reconfigured a relevant subcommittee and used the illness of one legislative opponent as an opportunity to schedule the vote. It has already passed the Senate; now it is marching along through the House. It’ll go to committee next week and then to the full House floor.
This legislation (House Bill 1049) would allow public funds to be used for private education.
Williamson County’s four legislators are all for vouchers. They also receive campaign contributions from pro-privatization groups.
As we have said before, we believe that the way to build and strengthen a world-class public school system is to ensure that public schools are adequately resourced. We believe that public tax dollars should not be diverted for vouchers to go into private schools. We think investment in our public schools is the best policy choice for our kids, our communities, and our schools.
What are our objections?
Vouchers hurt public schools. Vouchers pull money out of public schools and let private schools select the students they prefer (i.e. the cheapest and easiest to educate). In 2014, the Executive Director of the Tennessee County Commissioners Association said that vouchers would be “the greatest nightmare counties have ever faced.”
Vouchers don’t work. Despite being around for decades, vouchers have a weak and unproven record in improving educational outcomes for the kids they supposedly serve. Studies funded by the privatization industry predictably find gains; most other studies find little if any benefit. Sometimes kids do a little better, sometimes a little worse.
Any voucher program will be expanded. Education privatizers have made it clear that the end game is not about serving low-income students; rather, the end game is privatization of public schools in general – or at least the parts that can make money. The late Milton Friedman, whose advocacy group/think tank still funds or provides much of the pro-voucher research, once said:
“Vouchers are not an end in themselves; they are a means to make a transition from a government to a market system.”
You think this won’t affect Williamson County? Ha! Last year, a similar bill contained a provision tacked on the last page that could have brought vouchers to Williamson County. It was stripped out after parents raised objections, but not until after a press release that trumpeted how great vouchers could be for Williamson County was published.
In other states, the same path emerges over and over again. Get a small program started, then expand it.
Interested in spending public tax dollars on religious education? No thanks. We find it pretty interesting that legislators are suddenly concerned about teaching about world religions in public schools at the same time as they want to pass a bill that will allow taxpayer dollars to be used for… religious education in private schools.
Finally: The WCSB has a resolution on the books opposing vouchers. So next time one of our legislators talks to you about local control and representing their Williamson County constituents, try not to laugh too hard.