School voucher program proposal brings mixed reactions
"We do a lot more individualized tracking of education and helping students. If a student is behind in an area, we help them catch up, and if they are an advanced student and can go on. We don't hold them back," said West End Academy's David Dowling.
But with high school tuition costing more than $12,000 a year at West End Academy, many students who need the individual help will never be able to go without financial assistance.
"I think it's a great idea. It would give parents like me who don't have the funds to put my child in private school, it would give her a chance to go," said parent Tosha Goldsmith.
KNOXVILLE (WATE) - During his State of the State speech on Monday, Gov. Bill Haslam proposed a limited school voucher program to cover low-income children attending a low performing school.
Similar legislation has been sponsored in the past, but this time the governor's showing support.
"I think from the very beginning, we are focusing on low-income children and low-performing schools and if we can provide them an alternative, we should. There was a concern about what it's going to do with existing school systems, but ultimately, we're most concerned with students not systems, but we took that into play. That's why I said, 'Let's grow into this and see what happens'," said Gov. Haslam.
If passed, the school vouchers would use taxpayer dollars to allow low-income students to attend religious and other private schools.
Tosha Goldsmith has a child in kindergarten at Christenberry Elementary School, a lower performing school. She supports the school voucher proposal.
"I think it's a great idea. It would give parents like me who don't have the funds to put my child in private school, it would give her a chance to go," said Goldsmith.
Chair of the House Education Committee, Rep. Harry Brooks says he is going to help the governor develop the program by studying what has been done in other states and how it would work in Tennessee.
"We are going to go with the process of understanding what it is, make sure we clarify this information to the legislators and the folks on the education committee, understand the concepts, make sure they understand the pros and the cons and then understand the differences that are out there," said Rep. Brooks.
Some worry the vouchers would take funds away from public schools.
David Dowling, an administrator of West End Academy, a private school in Knoxville, says the vouchers would give parents more options for their child's education and sometimes prevent students from dropping out.
"We do a lot more individualized tracking of education and helping students. If a student is behind in an area, we help them catch up, and if they are an advanced student and can go on. We don't hold them back," said Dowling.
West End Academy was involved in the school voucher program study which found the school was able to meet the academic needs of many students on an individual basis.
Students with all GPAs are accepted. But with high school tuition costing more than $12,000 a year, many students who need the individual help will never be able to go without financial assistance.
"I do hope it passes. I think it's a great idea. I think it's really helpful that the governor wants to help us," said Goldsmith.
Rep. Brooks says while developing the program he will be doing evaluations asking many people involved in education what impact the vouchers will have.
He says the education committee will look at pros and cons of what's been done in other states. Again, this is just in the proposal stage.
Knox County Schools Superintendent Dr. Jim McIntyre says he has some issues with the program.
"I think the concern is any structure that is put in place for school choice or any options for parents isn't fair and do we address the basic issues of accountability and equity of access and if it's a level playing field? I think that Knox County Schools is willing to compete and can because we offer a high-quality product in terms of the education of our children," said Dr. McIntyre.