Gov. Bill Haslam/ GEORGE WALKER IV / FILE / THE TENNESSEAN
By Joey Garrison, The Tennessean
A much-anticipated report Gov. Bill Haslam requested on a potential school voucher program for Tennessee has left key areas open to debate, including recognizing a "range of opinions" on the scholarship's funding mechanism.
in the gaps will be the Republican-controlled state legislature, which
is expected to consider a voucher proposal during the next session, one
year after a version stalled. To advance "school choice," some
Republicans are pushing for a voucher program that would allow students
to use public dollars to attend private schools.
Haslam's voucher task force, a nine-member panel of educators and Republican lawmakers assembled last year, handed a 94-page final report
to the governor Thursday that found a "consensus" that private schools
should accept vouchers "in full" and not require additional dollars to
make up for full tuition cost.
The panel, however, didn't recommend a dollar value for the voucher.
task force members have argued funding should be limited to the state
and local school district's share of education dollars, while others
have said additional municipal dollars should follow the student.
Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, a task force member who sponsored last
year's stalled legislation, has advocated for a funding formula
identical to the way privately led, publicly financed charter schools
are funded in Tennessee.
"We should not reinvent the wheel,"
Kelsey has said, referring to a combination of local and state dollars
that would differ for each school district.
Under this scenario,
the voucher amount would be $8,100 in Davidson County, significantly
larger than the $5,400 outlined in Kelsey's previous bill.
task force has found consensus on some items; most notably, that
low-income students be the primary focus of a program. A voucher program
therefore wouldn't have universal eligibility. However, whether
eligible low-income students would come from only the lowest-performing
schools in the state is still unclear.
To ensure accountability,
panel members also agreed that participating private schools be held to
academic standards and be screened on the front end. In addition, the
group said any voucher program should be reviewed for its academic
results before it might be expanded.
The new report cites using
vouchers to attend other public schools as a possibility as well,
including expanding choice to enable students to enroll in public
schools outside their zoned districts and counties.
educators are eyeing a new voucher program in Tennessee, many local
school districts are opposed to the move. In Nashville, Mayor Karl Dean
said he is uneasy about a voucher program.