The Future of School Choice in Tennessee Part 2

By Tommy Schultz
What would the economics of Opportunity Scholarships look like in the state of Tennessee?
One thing is for sure: the rhetoric from school reform opponents completely contradicts the data. Studies show that Opportunity Scholarships, like those offered with the Tennessee Choice and Opportunity Scholarship Act before the Tennessee Legislature, present an economically viable way for a state to make immediate changes to some of the worst performing school districts.
As previously discussed, the scholarships would provide an initial 5,000 low-income families the ability to send their child to a private school of their choice. The scholarships would also only affect the five counties in the state that have consistently had “failing” schools.
There is the capacity to offer scholarships and find seats in private school classrooms in Tennessee, but let’s look at the economic feasibility of such an endeavor.
Nearly one year ago, The Beacon Center of Tennessee released an in depth study to measure the fiscal effects and other impacts of opportunity scholarships on Tennessee.
The study was able to demonstrate clearly that “Rather than reducing funding for students who need it most, a proposal like Gov. Haslam’s would not only benefit those students who receive a voucher, but also those who remain in the public schools by increasing per-pupil funding.”
The study pulled the statewide median tuition for private schools, and looked at the numbers county by county as well. Here are the statewide calculations:

Private elementary school: $5,240

Private middle school: $5,450

Private high school: $6,275

The average opportunity scholarship would be easily able to pay for the median tuition at these private schools, while also leaving remaining dollars into the public school systems—even though the public school systems do not have to educate the child anymore.
In Shelby County and Metro Nashville, two of the systems with dozens of schools in the bottom 5% of performing schools, the study showed that
“Despite being limited to only 5,000 scholarships statewide in the first year, Memphis-Shelby County and Metro Nashville can already expect to save more than $2 million each if all available scholarships are utilized. That savings would only increase as more students are allowed to participate in the program.”
$2 million in savings for those schools is quite an impact! More importantly, the data also completely falsifies the statements made by the teachers’ unions and public school administrators that assert there will be a financial loss.
This important study from The Beacon Center comes on top of six other studies from around the country that were reviewed by the Friedman Foundation which assert, “All six find that school choice saves money for taxpayers. No empirical study has found a negative fiscal impact.”
The scholarships proposed by the Tennessee Legislature with the Tennessee Choice and Opportunity Scholarship Act are clearly a win-win for the public schools and parents who want more control over their child’s education. It is no wonder that the bill passed the Senate this year on an overwhelming and bipartisan vote of 23-9, and received 35 co-sponsors in the House, which is more than one-third of the Representatives.

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