School-voucher task force gives final report to Haslam

School-voucher task force gives final report to Haslam

December 1st, 2012 by Andy Sher in Local Regional News

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam

Photo by Tracey Trumbull/Times Free Press.

NASHVILLE - Gov. Bill Haslam's school-voucher task force on Thursday submitted its final written recommendations to the Republican governor on how a program could be implemented in Tennessee.

Haslam appointed the nine-member group, headed by Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman, a year ago to study how Tennessee might allow students to use state and local tax dollars to attend private and religious schools.

Task force members finalized their recommendations in a public meeting this month, saying the state should limit any would-be program to poorer students. But the group failed to reach consensus on several key details, including how large the program should be.

They looked at Tennessee public and private schools and examined voucher programs in other states to see what best would fit within the broader context of current education reform efforts.

Recommendations included discussion about accountability and private school eligibility, student eligibility and scholarship amounts.

Haslam thanked task force members for the research and promised to review the recommendations before the Legislature convenes in January.

But the Washington, D.C.-based Americans United for Separation of Church and State was critical.

"If legislators are intent on subsidizing private religious schools, they ought to reach into their own wallets, not those of the taxpayers," said Americans United executive director, the Rev. Barry W. Lynn.

"Vouchers undermine the separation of church and state, and repeated studies have shown that they are ineffective academically," he said. "This is a really bad idea that ought to be rejected out of hand."

Speaking to reporters earlier in the week, Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, said he thinks voucher programs are needed in some systems.

"I just think it's blatantly unfair that we doom children to failure just because of the ZIP code they were born in," Ramsey said.