For this week's dead-tree issue of The City Paper, Andrea Zelinski gives some pre-game analysis, as it were, on vouchers and the coming debate over the issue in the state legislature.
She breaks down some of the pieces of a potential voucher program that will be up for debate:
Whether the governor will want to link vouchers purely to a percentage of the state’s worst schools or factor in those where performance gaps are widest is unknown. Also unknown is how bad a school would have to be for its low-income students there to be eligible for a voucher.
Which schools parents can send their kids to under a voucher program is also up in the air. Davidson County is home to 64 private schools, second only to Memphis’ 91. Some private schools with high tuition rates have indicated they may skip on vouchers — valued at an estimated $8,000 here — in lieu of full tuition in the double digits. A recent survey from the Beacon Center, a libertarian think-tank fond of vouchers, found almost two-thirds of private schools would participate in such a program, although the survey had less than a 40 percent participation rate.
Advocates for vouchers generally agree that there needs to be a mechanism to keep the private schools accountable for producing results with taxpayer money. More than half of schools surveyed said they don’t want to administer the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program, known as the TCAP, although using other tests such as the ACT could be up for negotiation.
These and other issues are all up for debate in the legislature this year. Lawmakers will also have to figure out issues like how the funding structure would work, whether private schools would need accreditation, whether transportation will be provided to vouchered students and how many vouchers would be available.
Zelinski also notes, interestingly, that House Speaker Beth Harwell isn't convinced vouchers are the way to go. However, Harwell says she'll let her committee look at it and see what they conclude. House Education Committee members received $16,500 from Michelle Rhee's StudentsFirst, which generally supports vouchers, and $15,000 from the state's largest teacher's union, which opposes them.
Note: I am reminded that StudentsFirst spent a total of $112,113 on the campaign of House Education Committee member Rep. John DeBerry, most of which is obviously not included in the $16,500 number cited above.