By JOHN McBRYDE
In mostly short order Thursday morning, members of the Franklin Special School District Board of Education approved a resolution opposing an Education Savings Account (ESA) program that has been proposed by Gov. Bill Lee and some members of the Tennessee State Legislature.
The resolution was actually part of the consent agenda, meaning it was not deemed controversial or in need of further discussion by board members. Citing various reasons that ESA’s, or school vouchers, are not beneficial to public school systems and “divert critical dollars and commitment from public schools to pay private education for a few students,” the resolution states that the FSSD board opposes any legislation or other similar effort to create an ESA program in Tennessee that would divert money intended for public education to private entities.
“We believe it’s wrong,” FSSD Director of Schools David Snowden said after the meeting.
“I’m not saying there’s never been any voucher schools that have not been successful, but overall … what they’ve intended to accomplish has not been successful,” Snowden added. “Other states have tried, and those vouchers systems have not been successful.”
Snowden said the district has been “watching and waiting” to see if state lawmakers would be proposing vouchers, and Gov. Lee solidified the notion when he laid out a plan for ESA’s, vouchers and charter schools during his state of the state address on March 4.
The plan would be capped at 5,000 students in low-performing schools, but Snowden said that would just be the beginning.
“That’s the same thing as other legislation, that when it’s created it continues to creep all over the state,” he said. “There’s no sunset provision on this. If it’s not successful it would end. As far as we’re concerned, even though it may not affect Franklin Special or Williamson County [Schools] this year, there’s a possibility it continues.”
It’s possible WCS could have a similar resolution as well.
In its Board of Education work session on Feb. 13, board member Brad Fiscus, 4th District, presented a first draft of a resolution that would state the board opposes school vouchers as well as ESAs and charter schools. He had done this after the board had met with the four state legislators representing Williamson County — Sen. Jack Johnson, 23rd District, and Reps. Glen Casada, 63rd District, Brandon Ogles, 61st District, and Sam Whitson, 65th District. Johnson and Casada expressed support for vouchers and ESAs during that meeting.
“I’m concerned about the tenet going on in the current General Assembly that they believe [vouchers] are an answer to help underperforming schools,” Fiscus said during the February work session. “The research just doesn’t show that.”
He said he has revised the resolution and plans to bring it up again during the board’s work session Thursday night.