It’s open season on funding for public education

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

I feel like it is necessary to open this column by first saying that Dyer County is fortunate to house two amazing school systems, as well as a wonderful private school, Christ Classical Academy. It’s also important to note that each of the three schools in Dyer County is accredited and held accountable for student performance. 

Dyer County, and West Tennessee in general, for that matter, may not be the wealthiest region in the state, but that has not stopped our community from developing strong schools, recruiting passionate educators, and churning out countless thousands of talented students.

I remember the day the voucher issue first arose in our community; the name “School Choice Week” seemed deceptive to commissioners considering passing the resolution, many of whom were initially under the false impression it was a campaign supporting public school systems.

In 2017, a resolution calling for the support of School Choice Week came before the Dyer County Legislative Body, and got sent to wherever unwanted resolutions go to die and were never discussed again.

The issue of using public taxpayer dollars to fund a privatized education isn’t a new topic but it is certainly becoming a more heated one as legislation for vouchers continues to creep into Dyer County’s backyard. 

While 2017 concerns over vouchers may have raised eyebrows toward the State, the topic, as discussed today, has launched red flags as a full-on assault on public education.

As a product of a hybrid education, mostly public but a few years private, I can understand the value in both for students and parents; however, like many others out there, I admittedly have trouble understanding how reducing funds for public education, a system that serves the most students, to prop up a system that serves a much smaller number of students, is a good move for Tennesseans—or anyone for that matter. 

It would seem this is only a band-aid remedy to a greater issue, and the real question would be: Why aren’t we using our resources to strengthen areas of the system that are failing instead of making them weaker through over $144M in defunding? 

And what happens when city and county school systems do not receive enough annual funding? I would have to assume that public schools would be forced to lean on their respective governing bodies to supplement the loss—potentially equating to more tax increases for residents.

Shouldn’t taxpayers be empowered to decide what private entities they wish to endorse? In response to a statement that Dr. Scott Self, a Dyersburg City School Board Member, stated during a recent meeting, “It is almost like there is a defined agenda to ruin public education in Tennessee.”

I concur. It seems strange to me that the same agency that implements protocols like standardized testing and 3rd-grade remediation is also the agency ready to jump on board for unregulated education, as proposed by Governor Bill Lee’s Educational Freedom Scholarships proposal. 

Does anyone else see the contradiction in all this? It makes no sense unless the true motivator isn’t actually making sure students are getting a quality education.

Watching one of my favorite late-night shows the other day, where the subject of talk was homeschooling, my eyes were opened to yet another facet of school choice I hadn’t even begun to consider.

While public schools are the learning hubs of our communities, they also provide a service that goes largely unnoticed—observing child welfare. According to the Fourth National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect, over half of child abuse cases in the nation are reported by school officials, and in over ¾ of those child abuse cases the parents are at fault.

Currently, only 26 states are loosely regulated, while 12 states have no regulations at all [Tennessee Homeschool Laws (hslda.org) ], and, in many cases, parents are not even required to report their child is going to be homeschooled. 

So, what happens to those children who are kept at home with an abusive parent and no one else to look after their welfare? With no regulations or accountability do these kids fall through the cracks? Is it safe for the State to assume that all parents are good parents?

For that matter, are we also not to assume that vouchers aren’t going to be a fountain of life for profiteers looking to sprout up a new organization and make a buck?

I’m not saying that homeschooling or private education is bad, but I am saying that I do not feel the State should impose taxpayers to fund these educational alternatives that provide no clear narrative for accountability.

Talking to Rusty Grills about the voucher bill, he admitted that he has not yet heard all the details surrounding the voucher; however, he did confirm that more information is due to be released soon. Grills said he thought many residents would likely be surprised by the bill, possibly even finding favor with it.

I don’t know about you, but this parent is watching closely to see what happens next.