Voucher spending could wipe out new BEP funds

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If the General Assembly passes the current proposal on school vouchers, the cost to local school districts would nearly wipe out all new funding proposed by Gov. Haslam in his state of the state address.

“Our state is 47th in per pupil spending, and this state budget does nothing to help us move up the board against other states,” House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh said. “We only hear about vouchers: a system that hasn’t provided any stories of success. We have to fully fund our schools: not cut nearly a half billion dollars from their budgets.”

To truly understand what's at stake for our schools, you have to look at how badly we underfund education, then take the governor's proposal to start catching up, and subtract the cost of vouchers: 

• Tennessee currently underfunds education by as much as $500 million, according to testimony from Tennessee Comptroller Justin Wilson in the House Finance Committee. Adjusted for inflation, we fund education less than we did in 2008.

• The governor proposes to begin catching up by proposing $261 million in new money for K-12, mostly for teacher pay and benefits.

• A voucher proposal that would grow to cover 20,000 students by 2018, potentially all over the state, would cost local school districts as much as $175 million in state and federal per pupil funding.

• If the voucher bill passes, the governor's new education funding would result in only about $86 million in net new funding. That would barely cover the needs of local school districts across the state.

• If we pass the governor's proposed budget, and the current voucher plan, Tennessee will still underfund education by $414 million.

"If we're trying to adequately fund public education, we shouldn't blow a $175 million hole in the budget for private school vouchers," state Sen. Jeff Yarbro said. 

The artfully named Tennessee Choice & Opportunity Scholarship Act has passed the Senate and will be up for a House vote Monday.

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