January 22, 2024

Laura Testino: Public school leaders sound the alarm about vouchers, Lee’s education agenda

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Laura Testino, a reporter for Chalkbeat Tennessee, sat down with two representatives of state school districts to talk about Governor Lee’s voucher proposal.

Tennessee state officials finally released their long-delayed letter grades for schools last month, just before the holiday break, using a new formula championed by Gov. Bill Lee’s administration.

But even before they knew their grades, leaders of a high-performing suburban Memphis school district denounced the system as a sham.

“This is all an attempt to paint Tennessee public schools as failing, thus ushering in a new era of vouchers for all,” a statement from Arlington Community Schools said. It was signed by Superintendent Jeff Mayo and school board members, including Dale Viox, president of the Tennessee School Boards Association.

Meanwhile, other suburban Memphis school districts have begun lining up against private-school voucher expansion, too, another key part of Lee’s education agenda. Lee’s voucher program uses taxpayer money to help families fund private school tuition, and the proposed expansion is expected to be a top legislative priority when the General Assembly returns on Jan. 9.

Lee’s proposal would remove income limits and ultimately extend the program statewide. It would be a huge leap forward for a program that was once billed as a pilot project and barely survived challenges in the legislature and the courts.

Viox said the TSBA is already instructing its members to pass formal board resolutions opposing vouchers. And it’s urging school boards to promote the strengths of their public schools and appeal directly to lawmakers.

“I think you’re going to find more and more people want to speak out about it,” Viox told Chalkbeat, “because there’s a lot of people in this area that I know personally and across the state that care a great deal about public education and doing right by students.”

Mayo and Viox talked with Chalkbeat about their opposition to the voucher program, and why they believe Tennessee’s new letter grade system is part of an attack on public schools.

Read the full interview here. 

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