The Tennessee school voucher bill, HB388, the “Equal Opportunity Scholarship Act,” which would have allowed lower income students of Shelby, Davidson, Hamilton and Knox counties to receive a voucher equal to half the total funding to attend a school of their choice should they wish to leave their assigned local school, sponsored by Rep. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, has been shelved by the House Education Sub-committee quoting a lack of “comfort” with the bill at the reason.

Via TN Report (full article available Here):

Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, was moving right along with discussion of his school-choice legislation in the House Education Subcommittee meeting Wednesday when the panel’s chairman suddenly called for a 10-minute recess.

That recess turned out to be a Republican caucus meeting in the office of Speaker of the House Beth Harwell.

And when members returned to the hearing room, a couple Republicans — Rep. Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland, and Rep. Richard Montgomery, R-Sevierville, chairman of the full House Education Committee — expressed their belief that Dunn’s bill ought to be sent to a summer study committee, an oft-used maneuver that puts an issue off for another day yet doesn’t kill the legislation.

But in sorting through just who stood where on the bill, the word “comfortable” kept coming up in the House subcommittee discussion.

“I think if we go to the summer study committee, actually look at it, have the opportunity to bring in people from other states who have been shown the success of it, everybody gets more comfortable,” Dunn said after Wednesday’s meeting.

“That’s the key word down here. You may have all the facts on your side. You’ve just got to get people comfortable.”

Montgomery said during the proceedings if he had a better “comfort zone,” knowing what impact the measure would have on local school authorities, he could move forward with the bill.

Via the Nashville City Paper (full article available Here):

A school voucher program for Nashville and the rest of Tennessee’s largest cities died in the House Wednesday only a week after passing the Senate.

In the face of strong opposition from the Tennessee Education Association, the House Education Subcommittee voted to postpone voting this session as even some Republicans abandoned their party’s position on the bill.

After the bill cleared the Senate last week, the TEA accused the majority party of trying to destroy public education by draining away tax money.

“The public ought to be outraged that 18 members of the state Senate voted for a blatant voucher bill which will drain much needed funds from public education to private and parochial schools,” said Jerry Winters, the TEA’s director of government relations.

Via the Commercial Appeal (full article available Here):

In Memphis, which also has the largest number of charter schools, school leaders are concerned that the competition is bleeding resources by diminishing the funds the district has to pay for fixed costs such as school building upkeep, transportation and staff.

Via the Times Free Press (full article available Here):

…the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, had finished outlining elements of the measure, which is opposed by all five large school systems, including Hamilton County’s.

Then, House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, entered the hearing room and quietly asked the chairman of the full Education Committee, Rep. Richard Montgomery, R-Sevierville, to call for a recess.

Members agreed and Republicans in the GOP-controlled committee left the room. After they were gone, a Democrat smiled and made a gesture of an arm getting twisted.

The Republicans later returned and Dunn said “there is a lot of interest” on the bill and he was ready to answer questions or “however you want to direct this piece of legislation.”

Rep. Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland, called the bill a “very important piece of legislation. I do think it is a very important thing that we need to take a long look at.”

He moved to send it to a summer study committee, saying it needs to be looked at “properly.”

Montgomery seconded the motion, noting the GOP-run General Assembly has already “made an extreme amount of changes in education. I’m not sure really personally myself what impact doing this has on the local education agency.”

Speaking later, McCormick said no arm twisting was involved.

“It’d be more accurate to say counted votes,” McCormick said. “I think it kind of caught me by surprise a little bit how far the bill had gone [in discussion]… and I wanted to make sure that when we do that kind of a program, we do it right — we do it slow and careful.”

In our posting Here we shared the results of A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Vouchers available to read in full Here.  This isn’t an opinion piece.  “This report reviews all available empirical studies on participant effects that use the “gold standard” method of random assignment and all available empirical studies (using any scientific method) of how voucher programs affect academic achievement in public schools.  These studies show, in part:

From 1990 to 2006, the nation’s school choice programs saved $422 million for local school districts and $22 million for state budgets. When students leave public schools using vouchers, not all the funding associated with those students goes with them.  This means public schools are left with more money to serve the students who remain. Educating students in private schools rather than public schools not only accomplishes better results, it also costs less.

Similarly, the  claim  that  vouchers  “cream”  or attract  the  best  students  from  public  schools has no empirical  evidence to support it. The best available analyses of this question have found voucher applicants to be very similar to the population of students eligible for vouchers in terms of demographics and educational background.

Nineteen empirical studies have been conducted on how voucher programs (and one tax-credit scholarship program) impact academic achievement in public schools. Of these studies, 18 find that vouchers improve public schools.  The one remaining study found that vouchers had no visible impact on public schools.  No empirical study has ever found that vouchers had a negative impact on student outcomes in public schools.

Even if vouchers did not improve test scores for participants and in public schools, there would still be other reasons to   implement them.  Vouchers put students into schools that graduate more students, earn significantly greater satisfaction from parents, provide better services for disabled students, improve racial integration and students’ civic values, save the public money, and so forth.

There are also other reasons one might support vouchers independent of their impact on test scores. Perhaps the most important argument is that they return control of education to parents, where it had rested for much of our nation’s history. The seizure of power over education by a government monopoly and attendant interest groups (especially unions) has had far-reaching implications for our nation. The American founders would have viewed it as incompatible with a free and democratic society, as well as a realistic understanding of the natural formation of the human person in the family.

However, when all these issues have been considered, the empirical question of how vouchers impact student test scores remains – and it remains important.  Vouchers do, in fact, improve test scores for both participants and public schools. The benefits of competition in education are clearly established by the evidence.   The only remaining question   is whether the evidence will be permitted to shape public debate on the question of vouchers.

TN legislators need to set aside their emotional comfort level and look at the provable, studied, positive impact vouchers have on education and children.

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