School choice Senate Bill 2025 is a promising, if imperfect first step to empowering the neediest students in Tennessee. As the Chattanoogan article states online (full article HERE):
The compromise bill, Senate Bill 2025, would give low-income students in the bottom 10% of schools in Tennessee an opportunity scholarship to attend the K-12 school of their choice. It would keep program caps starting from 5,000 students in year one and rising to 20,000 students in year three. If those caps are not reached each year, scholarships would be offered to other low-income children in those counties in which the bottom 10% of schools are located. The bill maintains the governor’s definition of low-income, which includes families eligible for free and reduced priced lunch, or $44,000 in annual income for a family of four.
However, we decry the arbitrary cap. Why is something that is needed to help the bottom 10% only good enough for the first 5,000 students? We must not get bogged down in numbers and politics and forget these are the lives, educations, and futures of real children. Arbitrary caps create an environment of winners and losers. It creates false hopes and broken dreams for the families not lucky enough to be the first in line or the first to apply. Student 5001 deserves the same opportunity as student 1.
For example, when you place arbitrary limits on school choice programs you force parents to camp “out—in subzero temperatures—for the third year in a row in front of Shelby County School District headquarters to have a chance at registering their children in optional schools.”
As we have written in the past we favor universal school choice. We believe only universal school choice will create an environment that will make it feasible to create specialized niche market schools serving the specific needs and interests of the students in our diverse state. Further, we see Education Savings Accounts (HERE) as the most flexible and empowering method, however, Education Tax Credit Scholarships (HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE) have proven their success in the courts and are less controversial. With that said, we welcome this first step to empowering families with school choice.