School Vouchers May Become a Reality in Tennessee

Published April 24, 2015

A bill under consideration by the Tennessee legislature would allow school vouchers in the state for the first time. The bill is similar to a failed measure proposed by Gov. Bill Haslam in previous sessions.

House Bill 1049 and Senate Bill 999 are companion bills to allow low-income families with students in the bottom 5 percent of schools to opt for a school of their choice, including private schools.

Tony Niknejad, Tennessee state director of the American Federation of Children, lauded the voucher bills.

“School voucher programs have an excellent track record in improving outcomes for students,” said Niknejad. “Study after study has shown that introducing choice and competition only helps. Moreover, in every state that school vouchers or private school choice has been enacted, the school system saves money in the long term.”

Niknejad says Tennessee’s school districts are growing rapidly, leaving districts increasingly unable to properly deal with the rising student population.

“In the last four years, Tennessee’s school system has grown by nearly 60,000 students,” Niknejad said. “Many districts are taking on students at a rate higher than ever before and are struggling to allocate resources to meet the growing demand. The cap on the opportunity scholarships legislation [the choice program created by the HB 1049 also known as the Opportunity Scholarship Act] is currently at 20,000 students. These students, the ones who are being worst-served by the school system, choosing a better alternative would help slow the growth and give these schools time to better serve the students they do have.”

Niknejad says the growing school choice movement led to immediate results in Nashville.

“We’ve already seen the effect of competition in Tennessee with neighboring public schools, the existing private school market, and the growing presence of charter schools,” he said. “The Metro Nashville school system acknowledges this and is working to change in response to this competition.

Jeff Reynolds ([email protected]) writes from Portland, Oregon.

Image by Max Klingensmith.