This week Governor Lee visited Lawrenceburg alongside Rep. Clay Doggett and Rep. Joey Hensley as part of a mini-tour through Lawrence and a few other rural counties, and the subject of his Education Savings Accounts aka School Vouchers plan was brought up, and Lee again made it plain as day he is no friend to public schools, and that ESA’s are not a way to fix public schools, they’re a way to dismantle them.
As a reminder, ESA’s are vouchers that will allow kids to take public money to private schools, draining public schools of resources while steering money to what are in many cases religious for-profit Christian schools not subject to the same levels of accountability as Tennessee’s public schools.
The ESA program has been a priority of Governor Lee, but also of Secretary of Education Betsy Devos, who has said on tape that her main agenda is to “Advance God’s Kingdom” through initiatives like vouchers.
ESA’s passed the house 50-48 after some serious arm-twisting by Glen Casada. Jason Zachary was the rep who flipped at the last minute, while insisting he was not promised anything for his vote. The FBI is allegedly now looking into what happened.
At this town hall, a woman stood up and asked Governor Lee about tax credits for those who don’t want their kids going to public schools. She expressed skepticism about the curriculum, saying that’s why she chose to remove her kids from public schools and now wants to not have to pay for them:
“Because some of us are paying taxes for services we’re not even using.”
Instead of expressing his support for public schools and pointing out how devastating it would be to our society if public schools were suddenly gutted by laws that required only those who use them to pay for them – meaning single people, people with grown kids, etc. could opt out (imagine the same if people decided they didn’t need police, or roads – an a la carte pay-for-what-you-use tax system is simply not what we have here in America).
No, Governor Lee went a different route. He expressed sympathy for the woman’s perspective, implied that he shares her vision for the future and believes ESA’s are the best way of getting there:
“If the people of Tennessee see good outcomes and results from that, then what we’ll start seeing is a greater desire and request for school choice, and we’ll look to alternative ways to do it.”
Lee tells her that because there’s no income tax in Tennessee, Education Savings Accounts are the best way to get where she’s trying to go – and that once people see that steering public money to private schools is a good thing, soon it won’t just be happening in Nashville and Memphis – the only two places currently targeted with the ESA’s (which is why Shelby and Davidson are taking legal action) – over the cries of the reps from those districts.
Lee wants vouchers to eventually be everywhere. And then he’s open to other “alternative” ways to dismantle public schools and get their hands on those public dollars.
Lee very clearly did not dismiss the woman’s vision for a future in which nobody who doesn’t want to support public schools has to, where people can instead take all those public tax dollars and steer them to private schools under the guise of “school choice” – “Advancing God’s Kingdom” as Betsy Devos puts it.
This is only the beginning.
In the same meeting, Clay Doggett also reminded us again that the only reason he and 49 other reps voted for the vouchers was because they were promised vouchers wouldn’t come anywhere near their districts.
Senator Jack Johnson told Williamson County the same, and Rep. Crawford told The Holler that no he wouldn’t like it if vouchers were imposed on his district against his will, as is being done to Shelby and Davidson.
For more on vouchers, read The TN Ed Report’s recent piece on it.
Thank you Kristina for going there and showing up. We’d like to encourage everyone to show up at all town halls across the state and ask tough questions, and Holler at us with your videos.
It went as well as could be expected. I asked Lee about Byrd, he gave me a non-answer. Senator Hensley suddenly found the power to speak after ignoring us in Waynesboro. I did get a bit of a kerfuffle going on about vouchers quite unintentionally. ?♀️
— Kristina Richardson (@AllCapsKristi) June 29, 2019