Tennessee Task Force Recommends School Vouchers for Low-Income Students

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(Memphis) A task force assembled by Gov. Bill Haslam completed its work Tuesday, in recommending a program for school vouchers to be used across the state.

If Gov. Haslam adopts these recommendations, a new bill could be sent through the state house and senate for approval in 2013.

While the final report will be released in two weeks, Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) shared some preliminary details with News Channel 3.

The current proposal would allow low-income students to receive a voucher to attend the private school of their choice.

The private schools participating in this program would be held academically accountable, by having the students take an annual test, like the TCAP or other similar exams.

The voucher amount has not been set, but the nine-member panel agreed it should be within the range of about $6,000 to $9,200. This amount is based on state and local tax dollars per pupil.

The voucher would be spent on private school tuition. In Memphis, private schools charge anywhere from $2,500 to about $14,000 per year. If the voucher amount is more than the needed tuition, the remaining amount stays within the public school system.

The criteria for eligibility have also not yet been set, but the task force has put several options before the governor.

On the conservative end of the spectrum, one option is to include all students currently attending a school in the bottom five percent of schools across the state. On the other end of the spectrum, the program could be made available for students who are up to 300 percent of the poverty line.

Sen. Kelsey was one of the nine people on panel, which also included Mary McDonald, who formerly oversaw the Catholic Schools of the Diocese of Memphis.

“To have an opportunity like this really provides Memphis with one more tool to help students succeed. It doesn’t negate or lessen all the other reforms that are taking place. It is one more way,” McDonald said.