Tennessee parents could have more options when it comes to the school their child attends. Governor Bill Haslam is backing an idea to offer vouchers that pays for students to move away from under-performing schools to better ones.
An idea certain to ignite debate at the state capitol this year is already sparking concern in the Tri-Cities. Governor Bill Haslam wants to institute a school voucher program to improve the state's worst schools. "What we want to do is get funding for those kids in lowest income level see if we can make a difference there," said Haslam.
Lawmakers are expected to see at least two voucher ideas introduced this year; one bill has already been filed and another is expected soon.
"The issue is how will it be paid for, which areas will take advantage of it, right now it's Memphis," said state representative Matthew Hill.
The plan currently backed by Governor Haslam would offer $7,500 per student to fund their education outside of an under-performing school.
It would first be offered in the lowest five percent of Tennessee schools, which are all in middle and west Tennessee. "I represent Washington County,” said Hill. “I don't represent Memphis. I have to do what is best for Washington County."
We sat down with Washington County's director of schools Ron Dykes, who says a voucher program is a bad idea. "Vouchers raise the philosophical question, should public money support private education," said Dykes.
Educators fear the voucher program would shrink the overall funding pool for education in the state. "It has the potential to rip a lot of funding from every school district across the state,” said Dykes.
Local lawmakers say they expect the legislature to pass some form of school voucher program this year because it is backed by Governor Haslam, but it will likely only be offered to students in Nashville and Memphis.
They say their goal now is to ensure east Tennessee education dollars do not help fund school vouchers in middle and west Tennessee.