During deliberation on the House floor, Representative Deborah Moody (who was carrying this bill for Senator Gresham) insisted several times that this bill is NOT a voucher bill. She said it is simply a way to give money for education to parents to provide an alternate education for their children. Call us crazy parents, but if it looks like a voucher, smells like a voucher, and quacks like a voucher... people are going call it a voucher.
Two different times, Representative Moody was questioned about where eligible parents could spend this voucher spending account. She could not provide answers until the bill had passed, which caused one Representative to remark that it reminded him of someone in Washington DC that said a similar statement about passing a bill to find out what is inside. One Representative even wondered if the money could be spent on lottery tickets, Slim Jims, and beer? There was laughter, but still no clear answer.
Representative Matthew Hill made some insightful calculations that this would provide about $550 per month for a disabled child's education, which is not nearly enough to educate a child with special needs. In addition, these voucher spending accounts open the door to predatory companies and organizations that may prey upon parents. Other Representatives brought up valid points about the importance of SPED students being included in the mainstream with peers in public schools, and the fact that these dollars have no accountability attached to them.
Representative Hulsey applauded the teachers and schools in his district, and said that teachers were offended by this bill. It said that teachers have jumped through state-mandated hoops for years, but this bill says that people can leave to escape to a system without mandates. He brought up an excellent point that, "if the private school sector can offer that which the public school sector can not, perhaps we should take our foot off the public sector and allow them to do the same!"
Representative Forgety had some excellent points, too. He had obviously done his homework! (Maybe he even read our previous email?) He brought up, in a very southern genteel manner, the fact that under this similar program in Florida, the McKay Scholarship Program, that nearly "50% of youngsters had no data" and there was virtually no "a-count-a-bill-ity."
Furthermore, to accept this voucher money, parents must agree to waive their rights to FAPE, a Free Appropriate Public Education for Students with Disabilities. This was designed to protect the rights of individuals with disabilities in programs and activities that receive federal funds.
Is it even legal to require parents to waive their child's legal rights for FAPE in exchange for money?
It is interesting to note that Speaker Beth Harwell voted for this voucher bill.
There is talk of petitioning Governor Haslam to veto it, but it is doubtful he will listen to real parents or real educators. He is most eager to privatize our public schools, even if it is a little voucher duck squeaking by in order to open the door for the elephant vouchers to barge through next year.
Don't be fooled, this is a bill to say that Tennessee has vouchers. This BRAND NEW Government Department of the TN Department of Education and coordinating with the Department of Health will require your tax dollars to operate and oversee. The public will simply use blind trust that it will operate without fraud or legislative oversight. Congratulations, Tennessee, unfortunately, you now have vouchers!