Nov 29 2012
06:31 pm

Tom Humphrey reports, just an hour ago, that Governor Haslam has received the report of the "Opportunity Scholarship" (aka "Private School Voucher") Task Force.

You will recall that the charge the Task Force accepted was to investigate not "if" the state might create a voucher program, but "how" the state might create a voucher program.

I did not realize until reading Humphrey's column that Knox County's own Indya Kincannon also served on this committee, representing the state's Coalition of Large School Districts.

When I phoned her just now to ask if she might post the Task Force's report and offer her commentary, she invited me to do so and assured that she would chime in sometime soon.

Here is that 17-page report, then (which I have not yet read, myself).

Possibly we can all look it over tonight, so that we might fully understand Indya's any comments offered sometime soon.

Indya's picture


For the record, I think vouchers are a bad idea. Public dollars should stay in public schools, where we can ensure academic and financial accountability.

The best way to address needs of struggling students, schools and communities is to continue to implement the reforms already in place and give schools the resources to do what we know works.

Despite my disagreement with the premise of vouchers, I am glad the Governor invited the Coalition of Large Area School Systems (CLASS) to participate on the panel. It's healthy to have a variety of perspectives when developing a plan of this sort.

What I learned from participating in the Task Force

1. The potential benefits of a voucher plan for helping at-risk students are, at best, small and uncertain.

2. The potential administrative burden to ensure academic and financial accountability are large and certain.

3. The best way the State of TN can help all at-risk students right away is by focusing on implementation of existing reform efforts.

I raised concerns about equity and access numerous times during our meetings, including:

-There is little evidence that students get better academic outcomes via vouchers.

-Without transportation, the most at-risk students will not benefit, even if they somehow have the wherewithal to apply for a voucher.

-Unless you mandate that private schools accept any eligible voucher student, regardless of their academic record, special education needs or behavior issues, then the voucher is not enabling choice for students, but choice for private schools.

Politics of Vouchers
Each member of CLASS has stated its opposition to vouchers in the past and I highly doubt that will change with the publication of this report. While voucher proponents are very vocal, I don't think they represent the majority of our elected representatives of either party. Time will tell.

Tamara, thanks for posting. I look forward to reading Knox Views comments on this topic.


Stick's picture

Thanks for fighting the good

Thanks for fighting the good fight... If you ever need citations from the US and internationally on voucher programs then let me know. Voucher programs do not raise student achievement and do increase student sorting. In the case of Sweden, the introduction of school choice has led to not only student sorting but to a dramatic drop in PISA scores, moving from a top performer to average in less than a decade.

lonnie's picture

I hope other elected

I hope other elected officials will speak out against vouchers and merit pay. Both ideas have failed when they have been implemented across many parts of the country.Tennessee has already taken too many steps backward in the past two years in regard to educational issues. The governor and the Republican legislature will destroy public education in Tennessee if they are able to go forward with their voucher plan.

Elected officials and educators also need to be outspoken in opposing the proposal by the governor to eliminate caps on class sizes. All good and experienced educators will tell you that smaller class sizes make a tremendous difference in the education of our children. The election is over and we know what happened in January 2011 following the 2010 election. The governor and legislature will shove a lot of other bad legislation down the throats of Tennesseans come January 2013. I sure wish Haslam would run for some national office in 2016. If he did, he might not want to poison any appeal he would have to a national electorate by signing more legislation that hurts our children and millions of others in our state.


stalwartdem's picture

thanks, Indya

Thanks for your rundown on the school voucher program landscape. As potential legislation begins to move, It is incumbent on us to communicate often, clearly and forcefully our opposition to our knox county state legislators.I hope that your comments on the politics of this are true. I know that newly elected state rep roger kane (district 89) is an unabashed supporter of school vouchers, so he would be a prime candidate to receive an earful about this.

Stick's picture


I'll have to print this out and read it tomorrow with fresh eyes. I've been grading papers all day. However, a quick glance at the cites offered to gauge the efficacy of other voucher programs screams advocacy research. Anything that comes out of the Walton family funded University of Arkansas Department of Education Reform* is suspect... not to mention the Brookings Institute. Also, it is very sad to see the prominent role that advocacy groups like the Friedman folks played in this.

Another thing... I skimmed the document, so I could have missed it. But, I didn't really see any consideration of issues related to student sorting. Did I miss this?

* Jay P. Greene is one of the most intellectually dishonest folks in the business. And that is saying something.

R. Neal's picture

Interesting remark in the

Interesting remark in the conclusion:

The Task Force’s charge was not to debate the merits or downfalls of a scholarship program, as this will play out in the Tennessee legislature if a bill is proposed; rather, the governor asked this group to explore opportunity scholarship programs and determine the best design for this state, particularly given the current education reform landscape.

This basically answers the question of not if, but when.

It also gives the Republican-controlled legislature too much credit. There won't be any debate about the merits or downfalls of vouchers. They will cobble together a short-sighted and incomplete bill, suspend the rules and put it to a pre-determined vote of the supermajority.

Dems (some of whom are for vouchers because they've been sold a bill of goods) can complain all they want, and even walk out. Won't matter.

Stick's picture

Yep. Once the door is opened

Yep. Once the door is opened and the infrastructure is put into place it will be near impossible to reverse. This is bad news.

jcgrim's picture

TN joins the edu-bottom feeders

Let's not pretend that the proposals (e.g. vouchers, etc) recommended by this commission, TN DoEd, SCORE, or from this legislature is 'reform'. This commission, as was the teacher evaluation "listening tour", is/was KABUKI for media consumption and for burnishing the resumes of ambitious politicians. The real decision makers routinely ignore years of documented evidence.

Real reform in education means providing ALL children, including those with significant disabilities and low SES the same school conditions our privileged white elite CHOOSE for their own children:

Of course, ALL children are not the priority, as was clearly stated by a member of the SCORE committee (who will remain unnamed here) that "we are not going to spend money on THOSE children."

Has anyone wondered why the Chamber and business roundtable suddenly got religion over raising revenue for schools via tax hikes, given the years of crying about high taxes? Suddenly education MUST have more money. Unfortunatley NONE of that money is going into classrooms for kids (unless it's to standardize test them into oblivion or pay for failed merit pay schemes)

Look at Memphis' Transition Planning Commission (TPC) for turning over 20 schools to private charter operators. If they don't get the tax increase that pays for their Christmas wish list, our privileged benefactors will punish the ungrateful masses (in the name of saving poor kids, of course.)

Contingency Plan
If all four recommendations for additional funding have been exhausted and a budget deficit remains, the TPC has identified potential incremental cost reductions worth $48M as a reluctant contingency plan. This contingency plan is not a recommendation of the TPC. The TPC believes that these types of reductions, which would increase class size and reduce school-level staff, undermine the potential of the Plan to create a world-class educational system, and should only be pursued as an absolute last resort.

The exact initiatives would need to be identified by the district-led working committee; however, some illustrative examples are detailed below. These examples total $48M in annual savings.

• Shifting to State minimum ratio of librarians which would result in a $5.5 additional annual savings from about 115 fewer librarians

• Retracting investment in additional Assistant Principals and shifting toward a 'SCS minus one' staffing model which would provide an additional $11.4M in annual savings from eliminating close to 100 AP positions

• 15% reduction in other school staff positions (e.g., clerks, educational assistants, therapists) for an annual savings of $10.5M

• Moving to a student-teacher ratio of 'MCS plus one' for an annual savings of $20M resulting from eliminating 280 teachers (p. 177).


jcgrim's picture

Accountability for private edu-entrepreneurs

I suggest any upcoming changes in education laws include accountability for voucher and charter entrepreneurs/operators.
Fiscal accountability should be standard for everyone not just public schools.

Any third party or private school operator who receives TN taxpayer funding for any form of school (charter, online,voucher, etc) be required to keep that child in their school program for its advertised time frame. If the school program offers 1 yr, 2yr, 3 yr, 4 yr, and/or more for completion, that same time frame must be afforded to ALL students enrolled.

If the child leaves the school for any reason within the advertised time frame the voucher money must be reimbursed by that private entity to the receiving school program.

Indya's picture

State Judge rules Louisiana Voucher program unconstitutional

Just in - State Judge rules Louisiana Voucher program unconstitutional.

Rachel's picture



Tamara Shepherd's picture


Per The Washington Post (1 hour ago):

La. Gov. Jindal’s private school tuition voucher program ruled unconstitutional by state judge

More background per The Huffington Post (yesterday):

Louisiana School Voucher Program Gets Constitutionality Hearing In Court

Excerpt from HufPo:

Several of the Louisiana religious schools that would receive public funds to take in new students from public schools have been shown to teach extreme anti-science and anti-history lessons. They include curricula that question the age of the universe, defy scientific evidence and theory and promote religious doctrine that "challenges the lessons central to public school science classrooms," according to the Associated Press.

"What they're going to be getting financed with public money is phony science. They're going to be getting religion instead of science," Barbara Forrest, a founder of the Louisiana Coalition for Science, told the AP.

In an August letter to the governor, C. Welton Gaddy, a Baptist minister and president of the Interfaith Alliance, similarly accused Jindal of initiating a program that "is bad for religious freedom and bad for public education as well as a blatant attack on the religious freedom clauses in the United States Constitution."

R. Neal's picture

And also

Earlier this week and somewhat related:

NOLA: Desegregation ruling comes ahead of teacher union lawsuit

New Orleans-based U.S. District Judge Ivan L. R. Lemelle ruled today Act 1 and 2 of the 2012 legislative session, which revamped teacher hiring and evaluation laws and expanded charter school numbers while altering accountability, violated the desegregation agreement of Tangipahoa Parish.


The parish school board requested an injunctive relief last October. It said the new education overhaul would "impair or impede" its ability to comply with federal desegregation laws in place since 1965 by diverting more funds to private charter schools.

Tamara Shepherd's picture


From Randy's link:

(Louisiana Superintendent of Education John) White went on: "The scholarship program has no effect on the desegregation order. There was no evidence produced at the hearing as to why the scholarship program would impact the order. In fact, there was no evidence presented at the hearing at all. Additionally, the Tangipahoa Parish School System received approximately $3 million more under this year's MFP (state public education funding) formula compared to last year's MFP formula...

It concerns me to realize that this assertion of White's will get traction with some audiences.

The question isn't whether or not this school district received more dollars after implementation of the state's new voucher program.

The question is whether the volume of dollars the school district then received was adequate to cover the per-pupil cost of educating the students left behind in the district's public schools, which per-pupil cost was most certainly higher after the voucher program robbed the district of its most capable (and therefore least costly) students.

However, this news article doesn't tell the reader how this school district's per-pupil costs changed after implementation of the voucher program, so the reader really isn't able to make any judgment as to whether the district's level of funding was adequate.

Problem is, I'm afraid some readers won't even know they lack this pivotal information--and will arrive at some judgment, anyway.

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