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News & Press: Editorials

Vouchers are Back: Professional Educators is Still a No

Monday, August 14, 2017   (2 Comments)
Posted by: Professional Educators of Tennessee
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Vouchers are likely to return both at the Tennessee General Assembly in 2018 and in the upcoming gubernatorial election. The issue has been debated and discussed for many years across our state. Public school teachers, administrators, superintendents and school boards, especially the members of our organization, are almost universal in opposition. Almost 90% of the children in our state currently attend a public school. Our organization continues to oppose vouchers here in Tennessee.


Politicians across Tennessee, who ran for election or re-election in 2016, ran on one message: Tennessee is on the right track in public education. Nothing has changed. In fact, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is the largest nationally representative and continuing assessment of what America's students know and can do in various subject areas. Tennessee is number one in improvement in both English and math for both 4th and 8th grade on the 2012 NAEP test scores and is number one in improvement in science on 2016 test scores. We are on the right track according to state politicians, and referenced in testimony by Economist Art Laffer in the Tennessee General Assembly in 2017.


Here is some additional food for thought:

  • Private schools will eventually be subjected to new regulations. There will, and there should be, strings attached if any school takes taxpayer money. Just look at these quotes: “A public school would become any school that receives students who brought with them public monies” --Lamar Alexander, former Secretary of Education under George Bush; “There is no doubt in my mind that there will be some new regulations with voucher plans.” --Chester Finn Jr., former Assistant Secretary of Education under Ronald Reagan. While both men are currently voucher advocates, their words then should serve as a warning to all private and parochial schools.

  • There are very limited seats available in accredited private schools. In Florida as vouchers were expanding in 2003, it was discovered that a state of 24 million had less than 5,000 seats in private schools available. Florida was a rapidly growing state and is approximately four times the size of Tennessee. A best estimate is there are only 1200 to 1500 seats available in Tennessee at accredited private schools that may be willing to take a voucher student. We would challenge anyone to produce the statistics of seats available at an accredited private school that would accept a student for a $7,000 voucher.

  • Public Schools are more than a safety net. Many schools serving poor children throughout the United States are overwhelmed by the social needs of the children they serve. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), 15.3 million children under 18 in the United States live in households where they are unable to consistently access enough nutritious food necessary for a healthy life. These 8 states have statistically higher food insecurity rates than the US national average (14.6%): Arkansas (21.2%), Mississippi (21.1%), Texas (18.0%), Tennessee (17.4%), North Carolina (17.3%), Missouri (16.9%), Georgia (16.6%), and Ohio (16.0%). More than 1 in 5 children is at risk of hunger. Among African-Americans and Latinos, it’s 1 in 3 according to the USDA. Our public schools are dealing with this issue, largely without additional resources or even acknowledgment by state and federal officials. Taking money from public schools, either rural or urban districts, will impact that school and community.

If the problems simply managing the Achievement School District (ASD) are an indication, the administration issues here will be multiplied, and Tennessee is clearly unprepared to successfully enact a statewide voucher program. The reality is that more than likely a targeted voucher program will eventually pass at some point, despite opposition. Will it be a statewide program? Will it be a targeted program for Memphis, Chattanooga, Nashville or Knoxville? In the opinion of many observers that is the most likely scenario. Even if stakeholders object to a targeted program, it is likely to gain the necessary votes the next or in a future legislative session, depending on who is elected Governor in 2018.


If a targeted program is enacted, it should include:

  • Pilot Status. It should have a beginning and ending date (sunset provision). Subsequent expansion or renewal must be based on data that proves the program’s success, including nationally norm-referenced test results.

  • Participating Schools must be accredited. There are various accrediting agencies that accredit private schools. A private school participating in any voucher program must be accredited by an accrediting association that is recognized by the Tennessee Department of Education.

  • Teachers must be certified. Teachers must be certified by the state and hold a valid Tennessee Teaching license.

  • State Exam or Norm-Referenced Test Results. Any participating student must take the state’s public school assessment or an approved norm-referenced test. After all comparable achievement data is the only objective, independently generated data that families can use to decide which school is in the best interest of their child. The Fordham Institute found that testing requirements rank among the least important considerations for private school leaders when deciding whether to participate in voucher programs.

  • Caps on Total Number of Students. We suggest the caps must align with the number of current available accredited private school seats in the targeted area, and no more for the length of the pilot program.

  • The Voucher Amount is limited to the State Per-pupil Allocation. In addition, the voucher should be income-based and focused on low-income students.


By offering these suggestions, this is not an endorsement of a voucher program, which our organization vigorously opposes. We simply do not believe a voucher program in Tennessee can ensure a quality education for all children in our state at this time. We also anticipate any voucher program is likely to encounter numerous legal challenges.


It is important that we remind ourselves of the purpose of public education under the Tennessee Constitution: “The state of Tennessee recognizes the inherent value of education and encourages its support. The General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance, support and eligibility standards of a system of free public schools.” Tennessee has a responsibility to ensure the right of all children to a quality education.


Most educators do not support the status quo in public education and strive to raise the bar every day. They understand an engaging and challenging education is the proven path to prosperity and a life-long love of learning. It has long been acknowledged that a strong educational system is essential not only to the successful functioning of a democracy, but also to its future. Therefore, we remain focused on our public schools in Tennessee, the teachers we serve and the students they serve.





JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee. To schedule an interview please contact Audrey Shores, Director of Communications, at 1-800-471-4867 ext.102.


Peggy L. Hunter says...
Posted Tuesday, February 6, 2018
Good to know.
Charlotte Ellington says...
Posted Saturday, September 30, 2017
I'm a bit disappointed to see PET members are against vouchers. Choice can be a good thing. There is nothing wrong with private schools. As stated above, "Tennessee has a responsibility to ensure the right of all children to a quality education". Parents have a right to ensure that as well. Sometimes the zoned school is not the right choice or fit. If my child was zoned for one of the "failing" schools in Hamilton County, I definitely would need a choice. :)

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