Editor’s note: This opinion piece was provided on April 13 upon our request to the superintendents of education for Bartlett, Arlington and Lakeland’s school districts.
The leadership of Arlington Community Schools, Bartlett City Schools, and Lakeland School System strongly oppose voucher bill SB 161/HB 126. The bill’s proponents reason that the bill is needed to provide low-income students attending poor performing schools the ability to attend higher performing private schools. The fallacy in that reasoning is that low-income students attending poor performing schools are the least likely to take advantage of the vouchers due to issues such as transportation, convenience, and social issues. Hence, for every dollar that is removed from public schools, those public schools are forced to cut programs that are the most helpful to the students the proponents maintain will be helped by the bill. In addition to the ill effects that will be suffered by the students attending schools primarily within the City of Memphis, the bill will harm students attending the Shelby County municipal schools. Funding for municipal schools is based upon the total received from the county school system. Therefore, if the funding is cut from the county school system, the funding is likewise cut from the municipal schools.
The notion that the bill is limited just to Shelby County schools and/or to schools performing in the bottom 5 percent is another fallacy. In Arizona the same promises were made in 2011 when that state adopted a like bill that was to be limited in scope; however, just this week, the Arizona legislature expanded that bill to apply to every student in Arizona public schools by the year 2020.
We are also concerned about the lack of accountability required of private schools that would receive state funds under this proposal. We believe any private school receiving public funds should be held to the exact same standards for assessment, teacher evaluation, reporting, and accountability to which public schools in Tennessee are currently held.