Make the Choice to Invest in Public Schools

Target: Bill Lee, Governor of Tennessee

Goal: End effort to defund and destabilize public schools.

President Trump recently waxed poetic about Tennessee’s “school choice” program, exclaiming “time to get this done.” Governor Bill Lee, the man behind the highly controversial proposal, boasted that the program’s passage would mark “an important day for the children of Tennessee and for opportunities.” If passed, however, this bill would set a dangerous precedent that strips opportunity away from thousands of children.

The ‘education savings account’ bill mirrors the voucher programs often championed in conservative circles. Advocates argue the program would provide upwards of 15,000 low-income families money totaling around $7,300 annually. Children could be removed from poorly performing public schools, and parents could possibly opt to either use the funds for private schools or for home-schooling.

Lee’s bill has passed both state legislative chambers, but the close votes and marked differences between House and Senate versions speak to the deep divisions that often underpin the school voucher debate. Teachers and other protesters have voiced strong opposition, framing this as an essential abandonment of the public school system. Many schools do not perform optimally because they must hire overworked, underpaid faculty and staff and because they cannot afford the resources to help a large, diverse student population. Taking more funds away from these schools is akin to a reverse Robin Hood effect.

Choice vouchers have proven unsuccessful in other states. Already-cash-rich private schools should not be primary beneficiaries of government financing. Further, while the legislature is busy worrying about “illegals” gaming the proposed program, they have given little thought to parents who might take advantage of the ‘home school’ option to score extra cash. In the end, public schools and students who do not qualify for the accounts could get buried by the people that should support them most.

Sign this petition to urge Tennessee’s new governor to reconsider an educational template that could define his legacy for the worst.

PETITION LETTER:

Dear Governor Lee,

You promoted the advancement of the education savings account bill as a win for “the future of Tennessee.” What, Sir, does this future look like? Seeds of division and inequality have already been planted as the bill continues its rocky journey through the legislature. Members cannot agree on the specifics, financing, or even the regional scope of the bill. One House member only voted for the bill on the condition that his county not be included in the new program.

Close votes have yielded two very different versions of a legislative effort that already divided the populace. The educators who have dedicated their lives to helping Tennessee’s youth feel most betrayed. Money that could be put toward new books, upgraded equipment, ensuring smaller class sizes, and toward properly compensating underpaid teachers will instead likely be funneled to private schools or even home ‘teachers.’

This effort will not create opportunity for students. It will rob them of the opportunity to learn and grow in school systems they can feel confident are nurtured and supported by their state’s leaders. Even high-performing schools will likely suffer the consequences of this radical transformation. And what of the students not ‘fortunate’ enough to qualify for this voucher program in disguise? Will they be abandoned and left to fail, much like the schools that guide them?

Precedent and history have not been kind to school choice. Please do not let this divisive, controversial dogma lead Tennessee into an uncertain future where the quality public education envisioned by many of America’s founding fathers pays the highest price of all.

Sincerely,

[Your Name Here]

Photo Credit: Ajari




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