School Voucher Bill Passes House Committee

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(Nashville, TN) Members of the Tennessee House committee on education voted Tuesday to move a school voucher bill forward.

The bill allows children in the bottom five percent of Tennessee schools to attend a private school of his parents' choice, using a $6,300 voucher.

The money comes out of the allotted tax dollars per student.

The remaining amount, about $1,200, stays with the child's original public school system.

The committee met vocal opponents Tuesday, including the Memphis Education Association.

Keith Williams, president of the MEA, said, "It certainly weakens the coffers for all children in the county, and in the state, when we start giving up funds to give to select small groups of schools."

Williams said that private schools tend to have students from supportive parent backgrounds and resources to do well.

"Public schools get all children. And if all children are now going to private schools, then they would have the same problems public schools have," he said.

He and other teachers from across the state said that the money would be better used to bolster the public system.

A representative from the Tennessee Education Association said that there would be issues with not enough people at the state level handling the thousands of voucher transfers.

"You're making an assumption that has not born out by some of the terrible things that have happened in voucher programs in other places."

Rep. James Coley (R - Shelby County) also teaches at Bolton High School and the University of Memphis. Coley was among the few, but outspoken lawmakers who opposed the bill.

He said he was glad to see MEA there, and did not feel vouchers would be a good idea when there are so many other reforms going on.

He also questioned the transparency and accountability of the institutions educating these children with vouchers.

"I've grown rather weary of stirring the pot, and I would like to look in the pot of what we're stirring to see exactly what we're cooking," Coley said.

But two other Memphis representatives spoke in favor of the bill.

Rep. Mark White said he supported the idea of parents choosing another place to go, besides their failing school.

Rep. DeBerry said, "If they make a mistake with that voucher, it's their right to make a mistake. It's their right to take their child where they want their child to go to school, and not where we tell them to go to school."

The bill now moves on to the House finance committee.