Yet another school district in Tennessee has formally opposed school vouchers.
Members of the Jackson-Madison County Board of Education, the governing authority for the public schools in the West Tennessee city of Jackson and the parts of Madison County beyond the city limits, voted unanimously on January 28 to oppose vouchers.
The vote came after statements of opposition to vouchers were made by school boards and county commissions in other parts of the state, all part of what appears to be an orchestrated and coordinated effort by the Tennessee School Board Association.
School Board member Janice Hampton told The Tennessee Star Tuesday that the vote among board members for a resolution opposing school vouchers was unanimous, something Jacksonsun.com also stated in its reporting on the January 28 meeting.
Superintendent Eric Jones was perhaps the most outspoken against vouchers, according to Jacksonsun.com
The website went on to say board members adopted a “recommended resolution from the Tennessee School Boards Association.”
A Matter of Standards
Two of the school board members — including Hampton — told The Star Tuesday that charter schools don’t measure up to the same academic standards as public schools. Public schools, she said, are better suited to meet all students’ needs. The two board members also said some charter schools have closed, and many charter school students return to public schools.
As it pertains to vouchers, The Star asked Hampton if she and her colleagues care more about what’s best for the students or what’s best for the public school teachers and administrators and the public schools’ financing.
“As vouchers are given to students as a whole, yes, if students of public education will go to charter schools or private schools you have many teachers losing their jobs,” Hampton said.
“Many administrators will lose their jobs because there will not be enough students in the school district to be taught. Is it fair for teachers who have gone so far to get educated and then to get certified to teach courses to lose their jobs because of vouchers? I don’t think it’s right,” she added.
School Board Member Shannon Stewart, meanwhile, told The Star that only one of her constituents has approached her to voice support for school vouchers. The majority of her constituents, she said, opposed them.
“Maybe because the majority of the people I surround myself with are very much pro-public schools, the same way in a presidential election if you’re a conservative then all of your friends will have the same views as you and if you’re a liberal all your friends will have the same views as you in regards to that,” Stewart said.
Justin Owen, president of the Nashville-based Beacon Center of Tennessee, a free market think tank, said he and his organization support school vouchers.
“The beauty of charter schools is that if they fail to provide a quality education, they get shut down. When is the last time you heard of a traditional public school shutting down for poor performance?” Owen asked.
“The reality is that charter schools overwhelmingly provide a quality education to students, as evidenced by the fact that more and more parents are choosing charters over their zoned public school, and by the data showing that the top tier schools across the state are charter schools.
Owen also said “it’s true that private schools in our state do not have the same academic standards as our public schools.”
“They have higher academic standards,” Owen said in an emailed statement.
“Further, since parents can choose whether to send their children to that school or not, they also are held accountable to parents to ensure that they provide a quality education.”
Last Friday board members met with State Sen. Ed Jackson, R-Jackson, and state representatives Chris Todd, R-Humboldt, and Johnny Shaw, D-Bolivar to discuss pending bills about education in this year’s Tennessee General Assembly. None of those men serve on education committees, according to the website.
During that meeting, Shaw signaled his opposition to vouchers, according to Monday’s Jacksonsun.com
“I would simply say this: I think it’s immoral to come down here and rob this system of the students and money and take it somewhere else,” the website quoted Shaw as saying.
Hampton said that under vouchers money goes away from public schools and will “create havoc and hardship in our school system,” the website said.
Jackson, meanwhile said “he wouldn’t vote for vouchers the way the board describes them to him.”
An Ambiguous Agenda
Someone livestreamed last week’s board meeting of the on Facebook.
According to the livestream, school vouchers dominated most of the conversation. Board members are reportedly concerned because Tennessee Republican Gov. Bill Lee stated in the past that he supports them. Lee, however, has used ambiguous language of late on the matter and has issued no firm statement to describe what, precisely, he supports.
Shaw, according to Jacksonsun.com, said if Lee wants vouchers, he should appropriate additional funds for them.
As reported, Lee named 36-year-old Penny Schwinn, a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley, formerly affiliated with Teach for America, as Tennessee’s new Commissioner of Education.
Lee’s announcement of this appointment made no mention of school choice. It was not mentioned either as a priority of his administration, or as an area in which Schwinn has any interest, experience, or focus.
Shortly after he won the primary in August 2018, Lee removed the list of Ten for Ten promises, which included school choice as one of the ten promises, from his campaign website.
However, a few hours after he was sworn into office last month, Lee’s official website posted this statement of priorities in education:
“Empower parents to choose the best educational option for their students.”
How and when this general objective is translated into specific legislation officials can enact into law, however, remains unexplained.
Lee’s failure to set forth a specific voucher agenda has given opponents at the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents and the Tennessee School Boards Association plenty of time to rally support against them.
Opposition Among School Administrators Growing
As The Tennessee Star has reported, school boards in Houston and Wilson counties, as well as Oak Ridge, stated this year they formally oppose school vouchers.
Wilson County Commissioner Robert Fields told The Tennessee Star last week that he and his colleagues voiced their formal opposition because the county’s Board of Education requested it.
But he did say some commissioners didn’t see much point in voting for the resolution because no one has presented a pro-vouchers bill in the state legislature.
Also as The Star reported, members of the Oak Ridge Board of Education say they are drafting a formal resolution opposing school vouchers, and they plan to forward it to state legislators.
According to the most recent draft of the Oak Ridge resolution, board members complain that, under school choice, private schools have standards to enroll or remove any students they wish.
Board members also complain “voucher programs divert critical dollars and commitment from public schools to pay private school tuition for a few students, including many who already attend private schools.”
Houston County commissioners, as The Star reported, formally opposed vouchers at the behest of Houston County Director of Schools Kris McAskill. McAskill warned vouchers would take money away from the public-school system.