Teachers, parents and community members came together to protest Governor Bill Lee’s Education Saving’s Account Bill with two anti-vouchers rallies in Tipton County on Monday.
The rallies, organized by Drummonds Elementary fifth grade teacher, and Tipton County Education Association President Leanne Nolan aimed to educate the public about the bill and lobby local elected officials to vote against the bill. The bill passes the Tennessee House with a Floor vote of 50-48 after a Knox County Representative, Jason Zachary, changed his vote after a 30 minute conversation with House Speaker Glen Casada.
Local State Representative Debra Moody did not cast a vote on Tuesday, as she was absent, citing personal family reasons.
The idea behind the ESA bill is to provide school choice by giving money to families to send their children to participating private schools, a charter school, or pay for homeschool supplies. The vouchers only work if their child is attending or zoned for a failing school public school. The bill, which has changed several times, will now only benefit families that live in Tennessee’s urban cities, but will effect and change how public school funding is calculated for the entire state including rural Tennessee.
Opponents of the bill are worried that the bill will take funding away from already struggling public schools and that property taxes, even here in Tipton, would have to increase to pay for the vouchers.
“Tipton County has a history of great public schools. I am proud to have put my children and now my grandchildren in our public schools. I want to keep our public funds in our schools instead of giving the money to private schools.,” said Leann Nolan during Monday’s rally.
Protesters spent several hours after school passing out literature, speaking with citizens and holding signs while asking drivers by to call their representative and tell them no on vouchers on Monday. Earlier in the month a small collation of teachers from Tipton County were selected to attend a large Red for Ed Anti-Vouchers Rally in Nashville, where they also met with elected officials at a press conference about the growing opposition against vouchers.
“Red for Ed is a movement that was started by teachers in other states who were also facing the possibilities of cuts in funding to education due to voucher bills. We have encouraged our Tipton County Education Association members and all teachers to wear red to show their support of public education. The movement has been gaining support throughout the county with more and more teacher seeing the dangers of vouchers and choosing to take a stand. If this Voucher Bill, which Tennessee has kept at bay for 7 years now, finally becomes law, I expect to see large state wide action like the teacher walkouts in other states,’ continued Nolan.
Tipton County teachers are not the only ones taking a stand on Lee’s bill. Earlier this month, Dr. John Combs, the Superintendent of Tipton County Schools emailed his entire staff, A Resolution in Opposition to Publicly Funded Vouchers, in which the accountability of the vouchers was questioned. “Vouchers eliminate public accountability by channeling tax dollars into private schools that do not face the state-approved academic standards, do not make budgets public, do not adhere to open meetings and records laws, do not publicly report on student achievement, and do not face the public accountability requirements contained in federal law, including special education,” stated the letter. The resolution was signed by all nine of the Tipton County School Board members. “Anyone receiving public fund should have to follow the same set of rules that you (the teachers) do,” Dr. Combs concluded in his email.
During the vote on Monday Comb’s emailed the live link to the TN House floor to his administrators and many teachers watched the vote with their classrooms and while on their lunch breaks.
“I do not like how our elected representatives decided to call this vote while all of Tennessee teachers and students are in the middle of TNReady TCAP testing and can not attend the vote live. I put the live feed on the screen in my classroom so my students could watch it junbo-ton style,” said Covington High School Senior English teacher M.J. Young.
After narrowly passing the house the ESA Vouchers bill is expected to come up for a vote later this week in the Senate. Our local Senator Paul Rose has yet to take a stand on how he will vote and welcomes hearing from his constituents.