In his State of the State address Monday night, Gov. Bill Haslam devoted a lot of time to public education but left the audience with a mixed message on his plans for schools, according to officials with the Tennessee Education Association.
“While I am pleased that the governor devoted such a large portion of his address to public education, it is troubling to see his voucher agenda moving forward,” said Gera Summerford, a Sevier County teacher, who serves as president of the union.
Although Haslam spoke emphatically about his commitment to public education, Summerford said his decision to take money from public schools for private schools is troubling because it "sends a very mixed message."
“School voucher programs divert critical funding from public schools," she said Tuesday in a press release. "Tennessee public schools have among the top graduation rates in the country and, at the same time, one of the lowest rates of funding per student, thereby demonstrating their efficient and effective use of taxpayer dollars.
"On the other hand, school voucher programs in other states have wasted taxpayer money by supporting substandard and unaccredited programs due to inadequate oversight. No credible study or research has ever proven the effectiveness of school vouchers or demonstrated any improvement in student achievement over public schools."
Summerford said she believes school vouchers also leave many students behind, including those with the greatest need, because these types of programs divert tax dollars to private entitties that are not required to accept all students.
“In the more than 50 years since school vouchers were first proposed, vouchers still remain controversial, unproven and unpopular,” she said.
Although Summerford, speaking on behalf of the teachers union criticized his voucher proposal, she did praise Haslam for allocating more funds to education.
“We applaud the governor’s continued effort to direct more money to public schools, but let’s not take one step forward and two steps back," she said. "It is not the taxpayer’s job to support private entities. Let’s keep public money in public schools, supporting initiatives like the governor’s proposal to update technology and improve school safety."