Monday, November 11, 2013

Voucher Backers Hit Hendersonville

Supporters of a school voucher plan that failed to advance in last year's legislative session are pushing again for its adoption.  This time, they stopped in Hendersonville to make their case.

Under one proposal last year, only students in Memphis and Nashville would initially qualify for vouchers.  Other proposals, however, include students statewide.  Given the stop in Hendersonville and in other areas of the state, it seems advocates may be pushing a broader proposal in order to expand appeal for legislators.

The vouchers, or "opportunity scholarships" as they are called by proponents, would take the full BEP (state funding) and local allocation for a student and allow it to be used as tuition at an approved private school.  Under most versions of the proposal, the accepting school must accept the amount of the voucher as full tuition, no matter the actual tuition the school typically charges.

Around the state, school board members are expressing concern noting the potential impact on their budgets.

For example, in Sumner County, if 200 students accepted the vouchers, the district would lose roughly $1.5 million.  Unless those students all came from the same school, it's unlikely the loss of 200 students out of 28,000 would decrease the Board's cost of operating schools.  Given historically tight budget numbers, the Board would have to find some way to make up for the lost funds -- freezing salaries, for example or holding off again on the purchase of textbooks or technology. 

In a district already suffering from a County Commission unwilling to properly fund schools, a voucher plan could be another blow to plans to move toward excellent schools that benefit the entire community. 

Given the potential impact of vouchers, this proposal is one worth watching in the 2014 legislative session. 

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