Metro's Great Hearts denial motivates legislature to push vouchers plan

Thursday, October 25, 2012 at 1:53pm

The Metro school board’s high-profile Great Hearts Academies denial is motivating lawmakers to approve a plan that would allow parents to send their children to private schools on taxpayers’ dime, said House Speaker Beth Harwell.

Parents want options, “and we didn’t give them that. And consequently, where do they go next but to vouchers,” Harwell told The City Paper.

“If the Metropolitan school board is concerned about vouchers, then they should have been more conscientious in helping us bring in an outstanding public charter school to this state,” she said.

Vouchers are otherwise known as “opportunity scholarships” and allow students to use taxpayer dollars to pay their way at private schools, including parochial schools. The idea is controversial because it would siphon money from the public school system.

Harwell said she prefers having “great charter schools across the state” than resorting to a voucher program but said she’ll reserve judgement until she sees specific details of a proposal.

“Everybody wants to keep moving forward in education reform and some folks see that as the next step, one more tool for children. At this point, I don’t know exactly what it’s going to look like so I really can’t commit to it,” she said.

When the GOP-led legislature considered in 2011 to use vouchers to give parents greater choice over where to send their children to school, the proposal won approval in the state Senate but never left a committee in the House of Representatives.

Gov. Bill Haslam begged off the issue last year and instead asked a task force to craft an ideal voucher program he could consider. The group meets Nov. 13 and expects to release its proposal by the end of the year.

The school board for Metro Nashville Public Schools is set to meet that same day and discuss whether to hire outside legal counsel and sue the state for withholding $3.4 million from the school district as punishment for not approving the Great Hearts charter proposal after the state Board of Education ordered it to do so.

Will Pinkston, a member of the local board and former political operative, told board members this week he fears their action may have set off the legislature.

“While I’m really troubled by the loss of dollars, I’m more concerned about legislation that’s being formulated right now in response to the events of this summer and fall,” he said at Tuesday’s school board meeting. “The more we drag out this conversation, the more likely we’ll be subjected to a legislative response.”

23 Comments on this post:

By: localboy on 10/25/12 at 1:49

Go baby go! Nothing will force everyone to meet in the center of educational reform like a good ol' knuckle-buster.

By: GoodieTwoShoes on 10/25/12 at 2:13

So, until Great Hearts showed up on the scene, parents had no other options? And because the School Board did what supposed to do, now we got to figure out a way around them?

By: pswindle on 10/25/12 at 6:22

Let's kill public education. That is exactly what the Legislative wants to do. If you go to vouchers, you will create the biggest mess that TN has ever seen. If you think that parents that are paying tutition will not want their vouchers, you are crazy. Get out of this stupid mess and let each country run their own schools. They are the professional ones.

By: ancienthighway on 10/25/12 at 7:49

Wait. The well-to-do want to use tax money to send their children to exclusive, private schools. Isn't that like welfare for the rich? Aren't those children already enrolled in the best Nashville has to offer in public education, and that's not good enough for them?

By: Badbob on 10/25/12 at 8:56

That's right ancient... You seem to be under the mistaken belief that the well-to-do think ANYTHING is good enough for them. It never is. They have the power. They will take anything they want. The fools in the suburbs actually think they would be welcome at the dinner table of those people. LOL

By: puddycat on 10/26/12 at 4:17

Perhaps the right thing to do is to relieve those who choose to educate their children privately from the tax burden of educating children from other families who educate their children publicly. Why should a taxpayer who imposes no burden on the public school system have to pay for someone else's child's education? Get what you pay for and pay for what you get.

By: ancienthighway on 10/26/12 at 6:03

Funding is based on enrollment, not how many school age children are in the state. As a child is sent to a private school, the portion of the tax collected is not refunded, be reallocated into different needs. A voucher system would instead divert those monies to a private company leaving shortfalls elsewhere. This could in turn lead to an increase in taxes or the threats of reduced funding for police and fire fighters, as it has in the past.

By: on 10/26/12 at 7:02

People are jumping on the charter school bandwagon like it will be a guaranteed success. If they look at the facts in other places that have allowed a large number of charter schools, the results are mixed. Some are succesful and others are not. If schools are privitized with charters, it will result in the same type of disaster that privitization of corrections has.

Note to state government: your responsibility is to education rather than profit.

By: hattrick3 on 10/26/12 at 7:50

Some of you on this board are just blinded by your hate of succesful people. No where in this article did it say that little Latoya and little Trayvon can not get the vouchers. Money is not an issue if you have less kids in the system. Less kids means less money needed. I know I went to public school lead by unionized teachers but I can still figure out that math.

By: hattrick3 on 10/26/12 at 7:51 - It's not a guranteed success but the failure of the public school system, especially in Davidson county, is guranteed.

By: kellyfretz on 10/26/12 at 8:27

Regardless of how you feel about charter schools, Metro took a vote and the state didn't like it. They shouldn't have the right to take 3.4 million dollars away from our kids. Please sign my petition!

Thank you!

By: edsupp on 10/26/12 at 9:16

This notion is actually funny. Great Hearts was denied because it did not have a diversity plan. Interesting in that probably 90% of all MNPS and charter schools in the nashville area are primarily minority based. Why deny a charter if other charter schools already established are not diverse? This whole mess can be summed up by the word race. Great Hearts wanted to open up in Green Hills which is primarily a white area so everyone denied the charter. Now, we want to give parents who blame everything on teachers free money, I mean options. I am sorry but the majority of the educational issues that we have are due to people who do not have any background in education. Let teachers teach and find a way to make parents responsible for their kids and most problems will be solved. Others will be solved when politicians stay out of education. Let a politician come teach for a week and see what gains are made. Let him or her come teach at McGavock, Stratford, or Maplewood. Good luck.

By: ohplease on 10/26/12 at 4:19

Great Hearts academies that are successful have affluent, privileged student bodies. Any school can succeed with that demographic. Their schools with low-income students are no better than our least successful public schools. Charters are not a magic bullet. National studies show that. Does anyone know what has happened to the Phoenix school system since Great Hearts started stripping funds from it? Have any media folks from here tried to learn that? Or has the mayor asked those questions? What has happened to kids with special needs, poor kids, troubled and abused kids? Are they better off because their system is sending so many kids to these schools run by a board with a very conservative agenda? And where have vouchers been successful? I have very little faith that the Tennessee legislature can be leaders in designing a voucher system that truly benefits needy kids. Have any of them been in classrooms and faced the challenges teachers do? And Speaker Harwell, your threats are a disappointment. The people with questions about charter schools are not children to be chided and threatened.

By: GoodieTwoShoes on 10/27/12 at 5:00

So, the threat is, approve great hearts, or we'll vote in a voucher system and take more money out of schools?

By: govskeptic on 10/29/12 at 4:36


I wish to thank you for delivering the those fine liberal democratic party ideas to
this posting. You are correct in pointing out those mean ole republican state
legislators are trying to change our already excellent public schools in metro.

By: pswindle on 10/29/12 at 10:25

If we had the right person to run the Metro/Nashville School stystem, you would see a difference. For some reason, the board always goes out of its way to hire a non- Nashvillian. Let's try it and hire a Nashvillian that really knows the area. There is a lot of good that goes on in our public schools. The problem is discipline and parents that have no interest in what is going on. We need to fix public schools and not take out the best students and try to give a private education on public momey. The Charter Schools have not been proven to work that well. How many have failed, but they have walked off with good old Metro's momey.

By: Ask01 on 10/30/12 at 4:19

I'm somewhat confused.

I thought the Republicans were supposed to be the party of less government intrusion in citizen's lives, or is that only so long as the intrusion benefits rich white folks, big business, and increases the wealth of the rich?

I wonder when they plan their first big rally at a sports stadium?

By: conservarage on 10/30/12 at 7:31

we ALL know why GH was denied. reverse racism.

By: on 10/30/12 at 7:56

Charter schools distract from the need for real improvement in the public school system. Vouchers would contribute to the destruction of the public school system. Both weaken the educational system and the opportunity to make real improvements in education for children.

The people with power and money can afford private schools for their children. As a result, many of them do not care about the education available for children from low and moderate income families.

If they really did care, they would be advocates of improving public education, INCLUDING paying the taxes needed to improve the schools.

By: jonw on 10/30/12 at 9:57

By: Ask01 on 10/30/12 at 5:19
I'm somewhat confused.

I thought the Republicans were supposed to be the party of less government intrusion in citizen's lives, or is that only so long as the intrusion benefits rich white folks, big business, and increases the wealth of the rich?


Preach on Brother. How dare Great Hearts try to locate in a mostly White area. Everyone knows Charter Schools should only be allowed to locate in Minority student areas.? Forget about those rich Black folks too. They just need to pay - - not receive any benefits.

By: RustyACE on 10/30/12 at 10:37

Dear Andrea,

When are you going to address the facts?

1. $3,400,000 divided by 81,000 students equals $41.97 per student.
2. Divided 180 days of school equals 23 cents per student per day.

You act like taking $0.23 per child per day from Metro Schools will cause their collapse. Where are they going to get the funding to hire an attorney? They'll spend more than that to fight an issue that the State had total authority to do, pre-warned, and followed through on.

State School Board says if you don't approve this school, we will pull this funding from you and give it to other students in the state besides Metro Schools. So other students across the state benefit from this decision.

They didn't approve the school, funding got pulled.

Give parents choices where to send their kids and they will choose the best schools. Now you have left over schools that the state can either step in and fix, or close down and build better schools.

Give parents the tools to choose the best teachers, instead of shielding them and protecting the incompetent teachers. We TAX payers pay a lot of money for the children of TN to get educated, we should have strict accountability of every dollar that we spend and who we spend it on.

I want the BEST teachers to get the lion's share of the money, the worst teachers to be unemployed. The ones in the middle have a choice to improve, or do something else. It's that simple.

We as tax payers pay nearly $8000 per student per year for 81,000 students.

The Voucher Program proposed, takes $4000 (1/2 of the allotment) and gives it to the Parent to choose the school that they choose their child to attend in the form of a voucher. The Other half ($4000) goes to metro schools (to teach kids that aren't attending).

So, for every child's parent that chooses a private school to send their child to, one half of the money follows them. For every parent that has the choice to send their child somewhere else, the metro school gets more money to teach the remaining students, resulting in smaller class sizes, and better outcomes for the remaining Metro Students.

So, let's say that of the 81,000 students, 30,000 children's parents choose to send them to private school. That's 120 MILLION dollars given to the remaining 51,000 students to teach them. That's extra money given to Public Schools to TEACH fewer students. That means that the remaining 51,000 students now have smaller class size, shorter lines in the cafeteria, better utilized resources, happier parents, and more successful students.

Why are Liberals so against this idea?

There IS NO Downside to a Voucher System.

I sent my children to public schools, and as soon as I could afford to, I pulled them out and sent them to private schools. I WISH I would have had a voucher system back them to help me as a parent get the BEST education for my children.


By: kellyfretz on 10/30/12 at 1:20

No matter what side you are on regarding the charter school issue, it is unacceptable for the state to denied funding to a district if they don't like how a vote turns out. Please sign my petition and send the state a message.

Thank you!

By: radiyojo on 10/31/12 at 2:16

Parents don't want options. They want good schools.