Kingsport Board of Education Question 1: Educational Savings Accounts

Rick Wagner • Apr 26, 2019 at 10:30 AM

KINGSPORT — How do you feel about allowing the use of public money for a private education in Tennessee?

The Kingsport Times News in effect posed that question to the five people seeking three at-large seats on the Kingsport Board of Education. Below are the answers they gave to that first of five questions addressing education issues in the Model City. Their responses to the other questions will be presented over the next four days. 

1. Do you support the Tennessee governor’s plan for Educational Savings Accounts (a type of voucher)? Why or why not?

The Tennessee Senate and House have passed different versions of this legislation, which must go to a conference committee. In a nutshell, the measure would allow public money to go toward private education costs for students in districts with schools that are performing poorly in academics. The legislation would not directly impact any school or system in Northeast Tennessee. The question is whether it will apply to only two counties or the state’s largest four counties.

Julie Brinker Byers

While I understand that vouchers are critical for low income families in certain areas to be able to attain a good education, in general, I am not in favor of vouchers. I believe vouchers take critical public funding away from public schools. Kingsport City Schools has about one teacher for every 20 students, and public funds pay for this staff, administration, nutrition, special needs programs, homeless programs, technology, maintenance, and other basic school needs. Having vouchers reduce these funds will impact the quality of our Kingsport education.

Vouchers take money from school districts that are already struggling, making it harder and harder to serve the school’s population. Struggling school districts need the financial support to improve their school. Often these are lower income districts already, facing more challenges of attendance and parental involvement than wealthier districts.

Voucher/scholarship programs also encourage start up of unscrupulous schools/ programs looking to exploit these vouchers. This is a problem with the special education scholarships that many states around the country have implemented.

While I know Governor Lee is promoting vouchers and I understand the need in very limited cases, I think vouchers would be detrimental to the high quality of Kingsport City Schools.

Shelton Clark

No. First of all, the math doesn’t add up. The program is allowing $7,300 per student, which totals $36.5 million and the governor is asking for $25 million the first year. In addition, there will be administrative funds needed to oversee the program. None of this makes sense. The public school factor does not see this being necessary. Very simple, take that funding and work with the public school programs that are seen under performing.

Liv H. Detwiler

I oppose the governor’s plan for ESAs. The name “Educational Savings Account” is misleading, causing people to wrongly equate them with Health Savings Accounts and 529 College Savings Plans. ESAs take taxpayer dollars away from public schools, they are not a personal savings investment strategy. The ESA “fix” is intended to offer choice in districts with severely underperforming schools, but will cause damage to all public schools state-wide by removing funding. Kingsport is not a severely underperforming district. This plan will only harm our schools. Kingsport pays $10,888 per pupil, some $1,000 above the state average, evidence that Kingsport is committed to serving all children with excellent educational opportunities. If Kingsport families are not satisfied with their public schools, it is the BOE’s duty to explore how the system might improve and diversify. One example of how KCS has done this is D-B Excel, an innovative branch of D-B that offers a unique approach to learning. As a potential BOE member, I would like to get creative as to how we might offer alternatives in other grade levels still housed within our public system. It is critical that we work to ensure our public schools are exceptional for all.

Todd Golden

I support the rights of parents to choose what is best for their children. All parents should take an active role in the education of their children which include choosing the schools they attend, the curriculum they learn and the activities they participate in. History has shown time and time again the best schools systems are those that have high parental involvement. No school system can stand on its own without this support. This is why I do not support the current ESA voucher program. Because it fundamentally undermines ALL parents’ rights to choose by allowing only a select few to defund the system where their children attend. We all pay into a system of education together and therefore, benefit as we raise up our future community. This ESA Voucher program would greatly harm that system, and do nothing to advance public education. It does not foster competition. It only benefits an unaccountable, for-profit system, which shouldn’t need tax subsidies to exist. We strive to find the best solutions and educational practices and employ them in KCS. If the ESA Voucher program is passed, it will hurt KCS and all public school systems in Tennessee.

Jim Welch

I am completely supportive of the opinions expressed by the current board objecting to ESA’s. I am always wary of the slippery slope — especially when somebody changes the name of “voucher” to “Educational Savings Account” because the term “voucher” has lost its political luster. First and foremost, there is no possible way that taking dedicated money and moving it can be cost neutral or revenue positive for Tennessee public schools. It is what it has always been — a political means to divert public funds into private schools that do not operate under the same rules as do public schools. I am totally supportive of parents choosing to homeschool or provide their children with private school education. I am not supportive of that choice coming with a tax benefit. If voucher advocates are so alarmed about certain failing public schools in certain locations, I encourage their civic and financial support be dedicated to fixing those schools rather than using them as a rationale to eventually open the door for vouchers statewide. I see part of my responsibility as a member of a public school board is to be an advocate for our public schools.