Nov 29, 2012

A voucher plan that would divert taxpayer dollars to religious and other private schools in Tennessee is a mistake that legislators would be wise to avoid, according to Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s task force today unveiled its recommendations regarding a voucher plan that would pay for tuition at private schools for some Tennessee students. In addition, some state legislators are expected to press for an even broader voucher program.

Americans United said the proposals raise constitutional issues and are ill-advised as public policy.

“If legislators are intent on subsidizing private religious schools, they ought to reach into their own wallets, not those of the taxpayers,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. “Vouchers undermine the separation of church and state, and repeated studies have shown that they are ineffective academically. This is a really bad idea that ought to be rejected out of hand.”

AU State Legislative Counsel Amanda Rolat, who has closely followed the voucher issue in Tennessee and other states, said vitally important public policy principles are at stake in this debate.

“Public funds should be used to support public schools,” Rolat said. “Vouchers divert public resources away from successful public schools and do nothing to fix those public schools that are not performing as well as they should.  Vouchers siphon off some students and abandon the rest in schools that are being placed in dire financial circumstances.

“The task force seemed to rely on reports that made representations about the success of voucher programs in other areas,” Rolat added, “but seems to wholly ignore the steadily increasing avalanche of empirical evidence that goes the other way.”