published Thursday, December 15th, 2011

Study of school vouchers needed before legislation, says Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam

Should the state give low-income students vouchers to attend private schools?

NASHVILLE — Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey today said he is ready to go ahead this legislative session with legislation mandating a scaled-back version of a bill allowing parents to use taxpayer-funded vouchers to attend private and religious schools.

But later in the day, Gov. Bill Haslam, a fellow Republican, announced formation of a task force that will study the issue. The panel won’t report back until the fall of 2012.

Speaking to reporters earlier, Ramsey said he would like to see some form of vouchers, which Republican proponents are calling “equal opportunity scholarships.”

“I want to see a form of it pass,” Ramsey said, later going on to question why a parent with a child should be “trapped” in a failing school.

In a news release issued later, Haslam said that he supports “school choice options” and believes the vouchers could “be an impactful tool in Tennessee. We should offer alternatives to low-income students and their parents who may feel stuck in failing schools. Charter schools have been a significant part of process, and it is appropriate to explore additional opportunities.”

But, Haslam went on to say, “there is still work to be done ... in identifying what an opportunity scholarship program should look like here, and I think those discussions need to happen before legislation is pursued any further in this session.

“First and foremost, any new program must complement our ongoing efforts to reform education,” Haslam said.

This year’s version of the bill, which passed the Senate and stalled in the House, would have forced implementation of vouchers for low-income students in the state’s four largest school systems, including Hamilton County schools.

about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

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Sane_n_RedState said...

The push for private school vouchers in Tennessee is the latest episode in a three-decade effort to undermine the great American institution of public education.

It began in 1983 with “A Nation at Risk,” a report by a presidential commission that cited shortcomings with the nation’s schools. Education Secretary Terrel Bell seized on the report to launch a campaign to strengthen public education. But antigovernment allies of the Reagan administration used the report--and a book by free-market purist Milton Friedman that labeled “government schools” as “socialism”--to call for competitive, private school alternatives. They ousted Bell and replaced him with William Bennett, a voucher advocate. Thereafter in major speeches, President Reagan repeatedly called for vouchers for private schools, mainly church schools--and prayer in public schools.

Faced with taxpayer resistance to vouchers, proponents attempted to rebrand them as “opportunity scholarships.” Lamar Alexander, as U.S. education secretary, never uttered “vouchers” but, instead, proposed a “G.I. Bill for Kids” that would pay private school tuition.

In 2001 the Bush administration concocted a scheme to set up public schools for failure by setting unattainable goals, and then to offer vouchers to parents with children in “failing” schools. They called it “No Child Left Behind.” Congress approved NCLB, minus vouchers.

Now with a decade of NCLB-maligned public schools, a core of right-wing state lawmakers is calling for “school choice” at taxpayers’ expense.

December 16, 2011 at 6:48 a.m.
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