Tenn. Clergy Ramp Up To Spearhead Big Push For Vouchers

Christian clergy in Tennessee are pushing for the state to create a new voucher program that would benefit private schools.

Members of the group, which consists primarily of black churches, have been going door-to-door to collect signatures in support of creating a voucher program that they say would benefit low-income students. Critics assert that the primary beneficiaries would be sectarian schools.

WREG-TV, the CBS affiliate in Memphis, reported recently that mem­bers of the group claimed the vouchers are necessary to rescue kids from supposedly failing schools in Shelby County.

“The Titanic sank, but not everybody drowned,” Dr. Kenneth Whalum of the New Olivet Baptist Church, said. “For every school choice example that we have that’s a lifeboat for another child to escape a sinking titanic.”

Whalum, who has unsuccessfully run for mayor of Memphis, is a controversial figure in town. In 2009, a lesbian couple who visited his church was driven out by members who allegedly called them devil worshippers.

Voucher plans have failed in the Tennessee legislature in previous years.

In other news about vouchers:

• Wisconsin lawmakers are looking to expand the state’s already extensive “school choice” program. The Wisconsin State Journal said that legislators are almost certain to grow the scheme in 2015, so the only real question that remains is: will schools that receive voucher students be held accountable for actually educating those students and spending their money appropriately?

At least one lawmaker hopes that will be the case. Sen. Luther Olsen, (R-Ripon), has said “If you get a check, you get a checkup.”

The newspaper said in an editorial that Gov. Scott Walker (R) and his allies may look to lower or even end the cap on vouchers in the next state budget, but if they do so they must come up with a process for assessing voucher schools and then implement consequences for schools that underperform.

The editorial went to explain that vouchers don’t actually save taxpayers any money because while “a private school voucher costs less than Wisconsin’s per-pupil expense in public schools,” they also take badly needed funds away from public education.

“When a traditional school district, for example, loses a handful of students to the voucher program, those dollars that follow those children aren’t easy to make up in savings,” the newspaper said. “A small district may still need the same number of teachers and facilities, even though its state aid falls by tens of thousands of dollars, based on lower enrollment spread across several grades.”

But the most problematic thing about expanding vouchers in Wisconsin, said the State Journal, is that most new vouchers end up in the hands of students who already attend private schools – thanks to a decision to increase the qualifying household income level.

“The statewide expansion should have been restricted to new students,” the newspaper said.