As Gov. Bill Haslam weighs whether to pitch his own school voucher program or let lawmakers take the lead by offering proposals of their own, he said any program that becomes law should be usable statewide.
“I’m not ready at this point in time to say exactly what we’ll propose,” he told reporters after speaking in Franklin to the Tennessee Farm Bureau.
“But there have been some folks who said, ‘Let’s just try it in Shelby or try it in Davidson,’ and I kind of feel like if we’re going to try a certain income level and require a certain thing of schools, it should work all across the state,” he said.
The governor later clarified to The City Paper that he and his administration have not yet decided whether to propose their own voucher program. The alternative is the governor could weigh in on proposals legislators suggest when they convene next year.
School vouchers offer certain students “opportunity scholarships” to attend a private, parochial or alternate public school of their parents’ choice. Voucher programs are controversial as they would allow tax dollars to fund those students’ education at private and religious schools, and, critics say, take money and students with involved parents out of the local school district. The plus side, proponents say, is vouchers give options to parents who can’t afford to move into school zones with better performing schools.
A new report laid out by the governor’s Opportunity Scholarship Task Force recommended that any plan for Tennessee should offer vouchers to students from low-income families.
The details of any program would need the approval of the legislature and the governor. Vouchers are generally favored among Republicans, who hold the governor’s office and supermajorities in both chambers of the General Assembly.
Haslam said the key issues he wants to “wrestle out” before moving forward are whether to restrict the program to only low income students, determine which schools can accept vouchers, decide how to hold participating schools accountable, figure out how much money follows the student out of the district and settle on what school year lawmakers would implement a voucher program.