The Tennessee Chambers of Commerce have responded to the Wall Street Journal article, Tennessee’s Chamber Maids TNSC reported on last week.

Tom Edd Wilson, Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce, Michael Edwards, Knoxville Chamber and Ralph Schulz, Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce wrote a letter to the Wall Street Journal Editor (available to read in full Here) claiming the WSJ article “mischaracterized the letter the Chattanooga, Knoxville, and Nashville chambers of commerce sent the Tennessee General Assembly regarding the Tennessee Equal Opportunity Scholarship Act.”

TNSC would like to comment on a few of the statements made in this letter by the Chambers.

In the April 27 letter, we clearly stated that a voucher system needs to be debated more thoroughly. Accountability is a critical element in Tennessee’s education reform efforts, and the original bill included no such measures. Spending public dollars at private schools without being able to track student progress and the return on the public’s investment is at issue here.

First, accountability is an important issue and something TNSC highly agrees with, but the Chambers are assuming parents who care enough to make arrangements to use a voucher are incapable of determining the value of or success of their choice in using a voucher to educate their child and therefore must require legislation.

Additionally, the capacity of private schools to accept students has not been examined.

TNSC fails to see why a (no doubt costly) study needs to be done on private school capacity.  This is asking parents with children in failing schools to continue to wait and further sacrifice the education of their children for a needless study.  In a free market if there is a demand some enterprising person/organization will step up to fill the need (something the Chambers should have an understanding of).  If there are more students seeking a private education than current capacity allows for, private schools will open or expand to meet that need, let us not delay improving education in Tennessee.  Children cannot be put on hold to wait for gratuitous studies.

In Tennessee, we expect a high return from our education investment. That expectation must be consistent across all educational spending whether it is public schools, charter schools, tutoring, and yes, even if it is school vouchers.

US News & World Report’s ranks Tennessee 36thTennessee’s composite ACT score ranks it fourth from the bottom of the nation; In the 2009 SAT Scores Tennessee students rank 38th in critical reading, 36th in mathematics & 42nd in writing.   These statistics belie the assertion Tennessee demands “a high return from out education investment.”  We are clearly failing to educate Tennessee’s children to compete in an increasingly technical economy.

Finally, but not insignificantly, The Wall Street Journal inaccurately reported the status of the Tennessee Equal Opportunity Scholarship Act. The bill was not “killed,” but referred to a Summer Study Committee, which will provide the opportunity to review the bill and its implications more carefully. Lawmakers will assess the experiences of states and school districts with vouchers and understand how to include accountability in such a program. The bill will be among those the House considers when it reconvenes in January 2012. We look forward to being a part of that conversation.

TNSC dearly hopes that these Chambers will be a positive encouraging force in the desperately needed education reforms in Tennessee.  Should the Chambers like to become educated about school vouchers and choice we recommend they visit our “Fact-finding” and “Resources” pages.

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