published Monday, May 2nd, 2011

60 percent of Hamilton County public schools students would have been eligible for voucher

BY THE NUMBERS

$4,600: Voucher amount

24,301: Eligible students in Hamilton County

$8,709: Annual high school tuition at Chattanooga Christian

$20,245: Annual high school tuition at McCallie School

Nearly six of every 10 students in Hamilton County public schools would have been eligible to receive a $4,600 voucher to attend a private school under Republican-backed legislation that won surprise early approval recently.

Last week, GOP leadership shelved the bill for the year by sending it for a summer study by House Education Subcommittee members.

That relieved Democratic lawmakers and public school leaders, who criticized the measure as potentially draining public schools of state money and reversing progress being made under Race to the Top initiatives.

“Last year we had Race to the Top, this year we have dive to the bottom,” said state Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, a member of the Senate Education Committee who voted against the bill. “This year we have seen education policy that has been characterized by political payback and lack of dialogue.”

But the bill’s sponsor said he will bring it up again in the next legislative session.

The bill would have provided vouchers to all students in the state’s four largest counties — Knox, Hamilton, Davidson and Shelby — who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. The $4,600 voucher was intended to cover 50 percent of tuition at a private school.

In the Chattanooga area, tuition can range from $8,709 a year for high school students at Chattanooga Christian to $20,245 a year at McCallie School.

Unlike other recent major education reforms included in Tennessee’s Race to the Top application, a voucher program hadn’t been discussed widely. And opponents argue it was driven by politics instead of well-informed education policy.

Hamilton County School Superintendent Jim Scales was among officials in Knox, Davidson and Shelby counties who wrote to Gov. Bill Haslam criticizing the legislation and begging the governor not to sign the bill if it passed the Republican-run General Assembly.

Under new reform laws, public schools are making a host of changes. Students are required to take more math and science classes. States are using more rigorous testing that is in line with national standards. Teachers and principals must be evaluated annually. Recent legislation has made it harder for teachers to get tenure, and teacher evaluations will now be tied to student progress.

“I am just puzzled with this type of legislation,” said Scales. “It certainly puts negative overtones to what’s going on in the state.”

If the bill had passed, 57.29 percent of Hamilton County students, or 24,301, would have been eligible for a state-funded private school voucher. And since schools receive funding based on head count, the voucher program could have resulted in a dramatic loss of state money to the Hamilton County system.

Scales said he also was concerned that the bill could provide state money to religious schools.

“We are sending them to private schools where there is no accountability,” he said. “Where is the separation of church and state?”

If the voucher program eventually is adopted, the accountability needed will come from parents, said state Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, who sponsored the bill for several years in the House before being elected to the Senate.

“When you introduce a little competition, it helps everyone to improve,” said Kelsey, who plans to continue to push the bill. “There is no accountability in a monopoly system that forces parents to send their children to schools that have been on the failing schools list for five years in a row.”

about Joan Garrett McClane...

Joan Garrett McClane has been a staff writer for the Times Free Press since August 2007. Before becoming a general assignment writer for the paper, she wrote about business, higher education and the court systems. She grew up the oldest of five sisters near Birmingham, Ala., and graduated with a master's and bachelor's degrees in journalism from the University of Alabama. Before landing her first full-time job as a reporter at the Times Free Press, ...

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generalno said...

This was a major setback for students, taxpayers and academic achievement. Winners of course were the unions, bureaucrats, and administrators. Now we can get on with funding more multimillion dollar stadiums, acoustically perfect auditoriums, lavish food courts and on and on. And of course we continue to live under the threat of losing our homes if we resist. Let freedom ring.

May 2, 2011 at 9 a.m.
whatsnottaken said...

Scales said:

“We are sending them to private schools where there is no accountability.”

Accountability in public schools is to throw more money at them, hold teachers responsible for adequate yearly progress while edcuating kids who don't come to school from homes where parents - if there - don't care and calling it No Child (allowed to work hard to get ahead) Left Behind.

May 2, 2011 at 3:57 p.m.
rolando said...

"Under new reform laws, public schools are making a host of changes. Students are required to take more math and science classes. States are using more rigorous testing that is in line with national standards. Teachers and principals must be evaluated annually. Recent legislation has made it harder for teachers to get tenure, and teacher evaluations will now be tied to student progress."

Yes, and it is the Republican Legislature that has initiated all of it. Long overdue.

May 2, 2011 at 10:23 p.m.
rolando said...

“I am just puzzled with this type of legislation,” said Scales. “It certainly puts negative overtones to what’s going on in the state.”

No, Mr Scales, it is merely serving notice to you and your ilk that your crummy, failing, bloated school system will no longer be tolerated.

May 2, 2011 at 10:25 p.m.
rolando said...

"And since schools receive funding based on head count, the voucher program could have resulted in a dramatic loss of state money to the Hamilton County system."

And right there is the real reason the failing, forced public school system detests any voucher program. Follow the money.

May 2, 2011 at 10:27 p.m.
SavartiTN said...

Interesting numbers on the number of students that would be eligible for a voucher. Hamilton County schools won't inform students that under Tennessee state law, the school can't require a payment of any kind of fee for an activity that occurs during school hours...including field trips.

For students on free and reduced lunch, by state law, they are not required to pay a fee for graduating. However, when questioned about this in February and warned by the State Board of Education, Hamilton County has chosen to ignore this causing some students to not be able to participate in graduation exercises.

But it's all about the numbers...the ones with dollar signs. Not the students. The school systems still haven't figured out that if they were actually educating the students, people wouldn't be asking for vouchers.

May 3, 2011 at midnight
Humphrey said...

So you take 60% of the children in Hamilton County. Now find a private school for them. Find a private school that will let them all in, regardless of special needs, regardless of background, regardless of ability. That will let every single child in. That doesn't get to pick and choose. Just like the public schools, they will educate all children. And just like the public schools, they will not favor one religion over another. Then you come up with $4200 in tax payer money for 60% of the children in Hamilton County in tax money.

Think about it. That isn't the point here. The point of this republican plan isn't to increase education for all children is it. It is to reward parents who vote republican who are already going to send their children to private schools so they won't be around "those kids." Those kids of color. Those kids who don't want to pray the same way they do. Those kids who have special needs and learning disabilities. All those kids who are "bringing down" public education. The plan here is to funnel public tax dollars to private schools who don't have to follow laws about equal access, that don't have to meet standards, that don't have to separate church from state. And it isn't going to be "extra money" -it is going to be money taken out of the public schools. If people want to send their children to private schools, fine, but don't expect the tax payers to pay for it. We have public schools because we as a society agreed that it was beneficial to have equal access to public education for ALL children, not to pick and choose some children. Yes, there is inequity in the public schools. Some are good and some are bad. And we need to fix that. We are letting our children down. Plain and simple. Taking money away from the public schools to put some children in private schools while the children with the greatest needs stay in the worst schools isn't going to help that. This is a case of some parents saying "I want this for my children, and screw the rest of them."

May 3, 2011 at 8:42 a.m.
educatedmom said...

I am confused by these comments --- The vouchers are ONLY for free and reduced lunch kids-- not rich kids! The rich have to pay for schools themselves. And the middle class-- the ones not on free or reduced do not get help either--- so either way my kids and others do not get anything - as usual. Is there not a way to help everyone? Isn't that what the General Assembly is supposed to do? The vouchers actually help the ones without money to send their kids to these schools. But it's the ones in the middle who do not benefit. Right now I am discouraged by public and private education in our state. I would like to see changes all the way around- starting with their leadership!

May 3, 2011 at 1:48 p.m.
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