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Vouchers Are Really for Middle-Class Suburban Kids

Courtesy of Tennesseans Reclaiming Educational Excellence

Courtesy of Tennesseans Reclaiming Educational Excellence

Coming soon to a legislature near you. ALEC is changing its PR focus on vouchers “from underserved inner-city schools to middle-class suburbia. A presentation at ALEC’s July annual meeting in San Diego was entitled “Problems in Suburbia: Why Middle-Class Students Need School Choice, Digital Learning and Better Options.”

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is a conservative model legislation “bill mill” comprised of state legislators like Brian Kelsey, Sheila Butt and Dolores Gresham and corporations like Koch Industries. In May, an Atlanta television station exposed the secretive nature of ALEC in a shocking investigative report.

It looks like ALEC member Senator Brian Kelsey jumped the gun when he included the benefits of vouchers in Williamson County in his 2015 bill. In February, Senator Kelsey of Germantown championed a vouchers bill that was co-sponsored by several other senators including Williamson County’s state Senator Jack Johnson. The press release on the bill highlighted only one county – Williamson.

Back in February, we posted this:

The old mantra of voucher promoters – giving poor kids a ticket out of failing schools – seems like a stretch here. So who is pushing vouchers for Williamson County and why? The press release says the bill could save Williamson County $319 million over five years.

The $319 million savings number came from the magic of a pro-privatization group that produces studies advocating for vouchers, charters, and virtual schools. For more information, see our February article: Why are we even talking about vouchers in Williamson County? The $319 million question.

The Senate Education Committee ultimately amended out the final section of Kelsey’s SB 122, 49-1-1209, which would have opened the door for all districts to allow vouchers if the local school board and county commission voted for it while waiving the low-income requirement and other stipulations. A modified voucher bill was pulled in the House Finance Subcommittee in April due to lack of support after passing in the Senate 24-8.

We have no doubt that vouchers will be a hot topic in the Tennessee legislature again in 2016.

Americans for Prosperity (AFP) is one of the main proponents of statewide vouchers. AFP Tennessee claimed as a victory the IEP voucher bill, which director Andy Ogles called “a mini-education voucher program,” and blamed the failure of the comprehensive voucher bill on AFP focusing on other initiatives this year.

Education privatizers like California-based StudentsFirst and DC-based Tennessee Federation for Children, the state chapter of the American Federation for Children, have spent huge sums to influence Tennessee legislators.

StudentsFirst “spent as much as $213,907 on lobbying in 2014, with its political action committee spending $573,917 during the two years leading up to the 2014 election, according to state finance records.”

Tennessee Federation for Children “spent as much as $150,000 on lobbying in 2014 and $606,345 during the 2014 campaign cycle, according to campaign finance records.”

Our own Williamson County legislators also took contributions from these organizations.

Rep. Jeremy Durham’s (R-65) top donors include:$7,200Tennessee Federation for Children (#2 donor)$3, 500StudentsFirst TN (#5 donor)

Rep. Glen Casada (R-63)$2,500StudentsFirst TN

Rep. Charles Sargent (R-61)$6,000StudentsFirst TN (#3 donor)$2,750Tennessee Federation for Children

Sen. Jack Johnson (R-23)$3,500StudentsFirst TN

For more background see:

Watch this three-minute video explainer about vouchers by the Southern Education Foundation, whose mission is to “advance equity and excellence in education for all students in the South, particularly low income students and students of color.”


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