We can't assume that even the people closest to us understand the threat privatization schemes pose to all Tennessee public schools. TEA has prepared some simple conversation tips to make it easier to talk with friends and family about these important issues. Proposed privatization bills in the form of radical charter school expansion and "education savings account" vouchers will undermine the foundation of our entire system of public schools.
Radical Charter Expansion
- The administration's proposed bill (HB940/SB796) creates a new state entity focused solely on authorizing charter schools statewide, including the ability to open charter schools over the objection of any local school district. This super authorizer would end the ability of locally elected school boards to make decisions in the best interests of the communities they serve. Every school district is unique and its students have their own unique needs. A statewide charter authorizer cannot possibly understand the needs of every school district across the state. Decisions of this magnitude - opening or closing a charter school - should rest with the locally elected board who best understands the community.
- The opening of a new charter school does not mean the closing of a public school in the same neighborhood. As a result, a new charter school drains resources from the already underfunded neighboring public schools. This forces the public school to cut important positions and programs proven to increase student achievement like school counselors and nurses, art and physical education programs, among others.
- Charter schools in general and in Tennessee have a mixed record. While there are some that function well, others have been abject failures, disrupting students and families by closing mid-year due to financial improprieties or dropping enrollment. State authorized charter schools in the Achievement School District have been especially problematic, using $30 million in additional funding over five years with no gains in performance, while innovative public schools using similar funding show significant gains for students.
Education Savings Account - Vouchers
- ESAs and vouchers don’t work. Research clearly shows voucher students fall behind their peers going to private schools or homeschooling.
- ESAs in other states have experienced a significant amount of fraud and abuse. These states believed they had proper safeguards in place to prevent fraud and abuse, but still lost hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars.
- ESAs are not held to the same accountability standards as public schools. Voucher students do not have to take state tests in Social Studies and Science.
- The ESA program is designed for upper income families that already send children to private school. In Arizona, 75 percent of all ESAs are used by the affluent zoned for A or B rated schools. Most vouchers in Indiana now go to affluent families who never intended to send children to public schools.
- Eligibility for the ESA program initially is limited in counties with at least three schools in the bottom 10 percent — but zoning in a bottom 10 percent school is not required.
- Families are eligible at 200 percent of federal poverty guidelines. A two-parent family with two children making more than $90,000 will get taxpayer funding.
- The ESA program will bankrupt school systems or cause local property taxes to rise. Taxpayers do not currently subsidize private school tuition, but as more upper income families take ESAs for their incoming kindergartners who never were going to a public school, a new ongoing cost will shift to local taxpayers for their half of the BEP, more than $70 million in local dollars after three years of the program.
- Appropriation of one-time state dollars to offset recurring BEP costs mean the burden sooner or later will be covered by local taxpayers, or cuts in public schools that serve low-income students will occur.
- Once ESAs are established in other states, they spread to cover all LEAs.