NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Voucher programs could soon be coming to a school near you.
“We can support public schools all we want, but don’t lock a child into a failing public school,” Rep. Mark White (R-Memphis) said.
In news first reported by the Tennessean, White, the House Education Administration Committee Chairman, is planning on bringing legislation expanding the state’s voucher program to every county statewide.
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A voucher program is where tax money is used to cover the tuition of a student going to a private school. It’s a concept Republicans say helps out those who are underprivileged. Party leaders have been pushing it since at least 2016.
“Money is required but it’s not about profiting off any system. It’s about what is best for the individual child,” White said. “Education is about educating each student, not about private, public, charter, homeschooling; it’s about educating the student.”
But Democrats say it diverts money away from public schools.
“Everything that the Lee administration and the GOP supermajority has done education-related has been designed to steer taxpayers’ money into private hands,” House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Ray Clemmons said.
The potential change is a massive expansion to Tennessee’s Education Savings Account (ESA), which currently only exists in Davidson, Shelby, and Hamilton Counties.
Clemmons argues it’s just the latest in a string of decisions meant to weaken confidence in public schools, pointing to the latest move by state leadership to explore the idea of rejecting federal education funding. “This GOP supermajority is underfunding it by billions,” he said. “Now, they want to blow a $2 billion hole in the budget because they don’t like strings? What are the strings?”
White bit back, pointing to the state increasing public funding through its new TISA model but also saying public schools don’t always perform to standard. “We just keep funding something decade after decade whether it’s functioning properly or not,” he said.
White also pointed out that the federal Pell Grant – which goes to students going to college with financial need – can be used on both public or private universities.
But Democrats point to the lack of regulation that comes with private schools.
“Pretty soon, we’re just going to have people throwing up private schools overnight,” Clemmons said. “Run of the mill, just profiteering factories, calling themselves private schools with no regulation.”