School vouchers opposed at the local level

While newly elected Gov. Bill Lee may favor school vouchers, those who represent the county on a local level do not.

And that’s not just true for Anderson County, but for Knox and Campbell Counties as well.

State Rep. John Ragan was recently named the chairperson for the Tennessee education committee, and at one time leaned toward being more pro-voucher, according to Clinton City Schools directory Kelly Johnson.

“His viewpoint is that it helps failing districts,” Johnson said during last month’s Clinton city council meeting.

“In the conversations I’ve had with him, he feels like all three school systems in Anderson County are quality, and I don’t think he realizes the impact it would have on effective school districts as well.”

But Ragan, in a conversation with The Courier News, said that although he supports the voucher system that is already in place for failing students and failing schools, he isn’t in favor of pursuing a change in policy.

“I’m not going to take a firm position because of my committee leadership,” he said, “but the likelihood of the legislation surviving is very limited. If a voucher system was proposed that had some very finely drawn limits around it and addressed a specific educational problem that wasn’t addressed otherwise, it might have a chance.

“But in general, most voucher programs that have been proposed are not so limited. I suspect that most of my colleagues would be less than favorably disposed to it. That’s just my personal experience.”

Lee has said that he is an advocate for choice, and that he would advocate for choices for parents of students, according to an interview with the USA Today Network.

The problem is that, with every student that leaves a county public school for a private or charter school, the district he or she leaves behind loses a chunk of funding.

In Campbell County, for example, if 10 students left the school system, the system would lose $100,000 in funding.

Campbell County’s District 3 Commissioner Rusty Orick said during a commission meeting in January that that would devastate them, as first reported in the LaFollette Press.

State Sen. Ken Yager, who represents most of Campbell County, is also opposed to the vouchers, according to Orick.

So why are legislators who are further removed from the local school boards for it?

The idea behind vouchers is that parents of eligible students could use public money to pay for private school.

The most recent proposition changes that up a little — a voucher could exist in the form of an educational savings account.

That means that parents would withdraw their child from the public school system and have money deposited into an account that they could use for private school, homeschool materials, or tutors.

A couple of weeks ago, the Mason-Dixon Polling and Research group asked 625 Tennesseans the following question: “Education Savings Accounts, also known as ESAs, allow parents to use their education dollars to customize their child’s learning and development.

Approved ESA expenses include technical training, K12 school tuition, or even special needs therapies from an array of providers, including public and private schools or tutors. Knowing this, would you support or oppose the Legislature passing an ESA program in Tennessee?”

Seventy-eight percent asked responded “yes.” But how would they have responded if the disclaimer “and those funds would be taken directly from your local school system” had been added.

Tennessee House Speaker Glen Canada is in favor of the measure.