Rural school superintendents in Tennessee gave out a litany of reasons this week to explain why they oppose school vouchers.
School vouchers, they say, are just fine for larger Tennessee cities, especially Memphis.
But they said rural areas do not need them.
Some of the parents who want school vouchers raised truants, and these same parents think vouchers will help them evade responsibility for their children, one superintendent said.
Taken to a more extreme level, school vouchers, according to the same superintendent, take money out of public schools and, without certain school programs, society might see an increase in violent crimes or people on welfare.
The Tennessee Star reached out to superintendents in what are considered several rural school districts this week to discuss their opposition to school choice.
Superintendents in only three of those districts — Benton, Hamblen, and Claiborne counties — responded to our requests for comment.
Hamblen County School Superintendent Jeff Perry said there are legitimate for parents to use vouchers — but there are also illegitimate reasons.
“When we are forced to deal more aggressively with parents who won’t send their kids to school, who have poor attendance, are involved in truancy, when we begin to have them to court or hold those people accountable then they will elect to go homeschooling. That is an attempt to get around the mandatory school requirements,” Perry said.
“Some individuals are not looking for a better educational environment. They just simply don’t want to be held accountable. That happens often,” he added. “You can see the day after we have juvenile court for truancy that our homeschooling requests go up pretty dramatically.”
Claiborne County Director of Schools Linda Keck said school choice has a proper place — but not in her county.
“I hear in Memphis there is more of a need, more so than in rural areas,” Keck said. “But I don’t live in Memphis, and I have never been there.”
Keck went on to say that public schools do the best they can with what they’ve got.
“We don’t get to pick and choose our students. They come through the door, and we do our best to teach the ones who come through the door. Our world has turned into everybody wants it their own way or they want it custom fit,” she said.
“Even if they try to do a custom fit education it’s not that individual. I don’t think a voucher school can do that. When they allow vouchers to be paid to the person who teaches them, they are getting paid to teach their own kid. I like the fact that in public schools you have the experience of the social aspect, learning to work with groups and different people. In society you don’t get a voucher for the job you want. You have to learn to adjust to the situations and be a part of the environment of the office group of where you work. It doesn’t work that way when you get out of school.”
Benton County Director of Schools Mark Florence, meanwhile, initially referred all of The Star’s questions to the Nashville-based Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents.
Florence did say he opposed school vouchers because “they take public dollars out of public schools.”
Florence, during a brief phone call, then said he would only consent to an interview either in person or by email.
The Star emailed Florence a series of questions Tuesday.
Florence did not respond to any of our questions before close of business Friday.
Perry, though, continued his narrative that school vouchers harm society.
“As you begin to withdraw that money (for public schools), there will be less money for public school options. There will be a decrease in services that we provide,” Perry said.
“Even though your kids might not get a better education, the rest of society is not going to be as educated,” he continued. “Then there will be a decrease in those kids’ preparedness to be successful in the world. Then there could be an increase in welfare, violent crimes, and people with unsuitable skills to be able to get out.”
Even though Perry said there are legitimate reasons for school vouchers, he did not elaborate when The Star asked for specific examples.
“(With vouchers) you could encourage some parents to take their kids out of school. They want money for a computer and for Internet access. They want money for freedom that would prevent them from having to go to court,” Perry said.
“You are almost encouraging some individuals who may not be fully equipped to educate their children in an effective manner.”
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