Support ESAs To Build Up The Next Generation - And Response

Monday, April 22, 2019

Education is a powerful tool that has the ability to change the trajectory of children’s lives. A good education provides our children with the tools they need to be successful, and it can open doors for them. Conversely, an education that does not prepare a child for the path ahead, keeps him or her trapped in the circumstances they are born into. The importance of a good education - from pre-kindergarten through post-graduate education - cannot be understated.

The United States’ higher education system is the envy of the world. That’s because a wide variety of options exist for our high school graduates: trade schools, liberal arts colleges, or community colleges, and we encourage them to choose the option that works best for them. We would never automatically send every high school graduate to the college closest to their home, as we do when it comes to their primary and secondary schools, and we would not prohibit a student from attending a college that was not a state school, if a private institution was a better fit. We should apply the same key principle of choice to our K-12 education system.

While a limited amount of high quality K-12 education options do exist, they remain out of reach from the children who need them most. We must not only ensure that educational opportunities exist, but we must also ensure students have access to the school that works best for them.

That’s where Governor Bill Lee’s Education Savings Account (ESA) proposal comes into play. He has put forward a plan to allow families to tailor their child’s education to fit their unique needs. The funds can be used on a number of learning solutions, including tuition, tutoring, textbooks, and online learning.

While this may seem like an unconventional solution, one of our neighbors to the south has already seen great success with a similar program. Florida, which has a robust school choice program that includes ESAs, provides an example to emulate. Parents are satisfied with their choices, and students who remain in Florida’s public schools have done better as well: Florida’s students significantly out-perform Tennessee students in reading and math despite nearly identical demographics and per pupil expenditure.

As we think about the impact this program could have on our education system as a whole, we should also consider the impact it will have for each individual student. I think about the impact a program like this would have had for me, and I know we must try this and other out of the box solutions that will change the unacceptable status quo.

I went to public schools in Chattanooga. My parents would have liked the opportunity to send me better schools but could not afford to do so, nor did we have money for tutors or extracurricular educational enhancement activities.

This program will provide parents resources that can be used outside the classroom, and it provides funds to the schools children are departing, which in turn allows currently underfunded schools a chance to get additional resources and produce better educational outcomes. I had amazing teachers in school and they did the best with what they had, but additional resources like Governor Lee’s proposal could provide would have helped them tremendously.

While we should be proud of the progress Tennessee’s education system made over the last eight years under Governor Bill Haslam’s leadership, there’s no doubt we have a long way to go before every child in this state has access to the education they deserve. I urge our legislators to support Governor Lee’s proposal, and I encourage you to call your legislator and let your voice be heard. The next generation of Tennesseans are counting on us to make sure they have access to the tools they’ll need to pave their own way. We cannot let them down. 

Darrell Freeman, Sr.
Brentwood, Tn.

* * *

We definitely respect all opinions on this very important subject, and we too believe that the public should look to states such as Florida and Arizona in order to get an idea of how the Education Savings Accounts and other neo-vouchers have adversely affected other communities. As stated by one of Florida's major newspapers, “The Orlando Sentinel spent months reporting on Florida’s scholarship programs, which will send nearly $1 billion to private schools this year. The Sentinel also reviewed thousands of pages of Florida Department of Education documents, court records and other materials in addition to interviewing dozens of people, including parents, students, school operators and policy experts."

Fraud had grown so rampant in Florida that for two years the Orlando Sentinel ran a series entitled, Schools Without Rules, where they documented the effects of unlicensed and untrained educators, mismanagement of funds, failure to pay teachers and pecuniary expenses, and inadequate services provided to special needs students along with a wide assortment of unmet and unfulfilled assurances.Further, in October 2018, the Arizona Republic alerted the public about an audit that was conducted by the Arizona Attorney General that found that more than $700,000 was misspent on any number unrelated items such as “beauty supplies”, sports apparel, computer technical needs, and unwarranted spending outside of the needs of students. 

Instead of limiting achievement to a diminutive number of schools and students, and siphoning up to $125 million a year that should stay in the domain to aide and assist public schools, we advocate for two more progressive and practical approaches to education. One, as conveyed by the Journey for Justice in their report, Failing Brown v. Board: A Continuous Struggle Against Inequity in Public Education (2018), we agree that we all know, “what successful, fully-resourced schools look like: They offer a culturally relevant, engaging and challenging curriculum, smaller class sizes, more experienced teachers, wrap-around emotional and academic supports, a student-centered school climate and meaningful parent and community engagement. These are the hallmarks of what Journey for Justice calls sustainable community schools. These schools exist by the thousands across the country. But they rarely exist in communities struggling with poverty. We are seeking these schools—the schools that all our children deserve—in our communities.” 

We also agree with Dr. Pedro Noguera in the notion that we must afford schools the opportunity to build capacity through: (1) A coherent instructional guidance system; (2) Continuous development of the professional capacity of staff; (3) Parental involvement and participation acting in collaboration with  strong community-school ties; (4) A student-centered learning environment; (5) Shared leadership to drive change.: (1) A coherent instructional guidance system; (2) Continuous development of the professional capacity of staff; (3) Parental involvement and participation acting in collaboration with  strong community-school ties; (4) A student-centered learning environment; (5) Shared leadership to drive change.

Based on the facts, data and best evidence we have seen, we must continue to be opposed to Education Savings Accounts and other forms of neo-vouchers.

Unity Group of Chattanooga,
Sherman E Matthews Jr., Chairman
Eric Atkins, Corresponding Secretary


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