Gov. Bill Lee’s decision to champion one of Tennessee’s most controversial education options comes as the state already faces significant challenges and lawsuits related to school funding.
The Republican governor wants to offer education savings accounts, a form of vouchers that give families taxpayer money to pay for private education services such as tuition, tutoring, or online courses.
The proposal — which would start with 5,000 students from districts with low-performing schools — already has raised numerous concerns that we have reported on during more than a decade of legislative battles over similar ideas. And more questions emerge every day as Tennessee awaits details from new voucher legislation that’s expected to be filed as early as this week.
Below are more questions about education savings accounts from Chalkbeat readers, parents, teachers, and other stakeholders.
Gov. Lee has proposed $25 million in funding for the first year, but it’s not clear what would happen in successive years. —Mendell Grinter, Campaign for School Equity
If you’re sending millions of dollars to private schools instead of public ones, won’t this mean less money for public schools? —Scott Price
Under the governor’s plan, are we paying twice for some kids — once for the education savings account and once for the amount lost to public schools? —Jeffrey Chipman
What would happen if a child is deemed not to be a good fit for the voucher program? Would the money go back to their local school systems? —Stephanie Love, board member, Shelby County Schools
If this program is to help children in failing schools, would vouchers be available to the entire district in which the failing schools operate? If so, why is the plan so broad? —Janet Shouse, Franklin
Has the new administration engaged any studies to determine what impact the voucher plan might have on school segregation in Tennessee? —Amy Frogge, board member, Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools
Is this model a Trojan horse designed to reinstitute school prayer by allowing public monies to go to private religious schools? —Marcus Pohlman, author of several books about Memphis schools
How will the governor’s plan ensure religious liberty and prevent government intrusion into religious schools that accept vouchers? —Brad Fiscus, Pastors for Tennessee Children
What actions would be taken if students fare worse with education savings accounts than they did in their public schools? —Gini Pupo-Walker, Tennessee Educational Equity Coalition
Which private schools would be [willing] to teach students from low-income families who qualify for $7,300 vouchers? —Wendi Thomas, Memphis journalist
How would children from low-income families who need transportation to these private schools be transported? —Sarah Katko, Memphis
The governor wants more career-technical education, but how can public schools offer expensive biotech programs if money is siphoned off for vouchers? —Nicole Gardner Martin, Newbern
Do you have a question about the governor’s proposal? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.