To the Editor:
As we move forward into the next four years with Gov. Bill Lee, as well as newly appointed reform advocate Penny Schwinn as Commissioner of Education, we are hopeful that the 111th General Assembly will make decisions that will strengthen our public school institutions.
Recently, the governor stated he will introduce Education Savings Accounts (ESAs), a type of voucher program, but with much more flexibility and much less accountability.
Allow me to take a brief moment to educate those of you who are wondering what the difference is between vouchers and education savings accounts.
Vouchers allow parents to use public funding set aside for their child to use toward a private school, as well as tuition toward a religiously affiliated private school. In Education Savings Accounts, money is designated to an account for individual students based on a BEP formula determined by the hierarchy at the state level.
Parents can withdraw this money from their child’s account and choose from a smorgasbord of options rather than enrolling them in a public or private school, including homeschooling, online programs, tutoring, therapy, transportation or college.
Voucher programs both lack accountability to taxpayers, and, most significantly parents, as well as divert critical funding from our public schools. ESAs will benefit those students who are financially able to attend private schools, because they will get a large portion of their tuition funded, while the students who remain in our public schools will do so with less funding to cover much needed programs and resources such as school nurses, counselors and educational assistants.
As a parent, Education Savings Accounts sound attractive. However, please research ESA offered to parents as a “choice.” How will your child ultimately benefit? Public schools offer a full-service education with academics, which will drastically suffer if money is siphoned away to fund ESAs.
If ESAs are passed by our legislators, taxpayers will still shoulder the cost of funding our public schools, as well as this voucher option renamed Education Savings Accounts.
Vouchers have failed in record numbers in many states, including of misuse of funds. Taxpayers, I urge you to research the history of vouchers and their implementation in other states.
I am pleased that Rep. Mark White (Memphis), Chair of the House Education Committee is challenging ESAs because of the lack of accountability. The Vice Chair of the full committee is Rep. Kirk Haston (Lobelville), an active public school teacher, and Rutherford County’s newly elected State Representative Charlie Baum also sits on the Education Curriculum, Testing, & Innovation Committee. I welcome their leadership on educating parents on the value of public schools.
I pledge as a Murfreesboro City School Board member to keep an open mind to this reform and look forward to the governor and the new commissioner laying out their new vision for education in Tennessee.
In the meantime, I fear that our public schools will once again be under attack and as a member of the Murfreesboro City School Board, I must prepare for the battle ahead to protect an institution that opens our doors to all children. The United States, as a pioneer of public education, continues their mission of providing a free education to ALL of our children, regardless of disabilities, race, nationality or religion.
So, I ask our local elected legislators, new governor and our new commissioner, let’s work together as representatives from different stakeholders to find some real answers and common ground to making our public education system in Tennessee the best for all our children.
Murfreesboro City Schools board member
Residents may reach Goff at Becky.email@example.com