OTHER OPINION: Vouchers don’t solve failing schools

By Jackson Sun, Jackson, Tenn.

The issue of school vouchers in Tennessee will be back in the news this week as the governor’s school voucher task force reports its findings. Also, look for the issue to come before the 2013 General Assembly. The idea of school vouchers is appealing. But the practical application is daunting. More important, vouchers don’t solve the problem of failing schools.
State Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, and state Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, sponsored school voucher legislation this year, but it failed to pass. That led Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam to appoint a nine-member task force to study the issue and put forth school voucher options for consideration. One thing is certain, task force input from lawmakers, educators and the public was as varied as the wide range of people who participated.
One new twist in the task force’s report is to allow vouchers to be used to transfer to public schools as well as to private schools, and to allow transfers across school district and county lines. One advocate even suggested allowing transfers across state lines. Keep in mind Tennessee shares its border with eight states.
Most of the state’s failing schools are in poor communities. How many students might be able to take advantage of a school voucher to attend school in a different school district or even a different county? Probably not very many.
The idea of school vouchers appeals to our sense of wanting to afford every child the best educational opportunity possible. But, as a practical matter, school vouchers only offer that opportunity to a relatively small number of students.
The more pressing challenge is to fix failing schools so all of the students get a better education, not just a few.