Tennessee Grandmother Pushes for Private School Choice

Tennessee currently has one small private school choice program. The current program is an Education Savings Account (ESA), small in size, and specific for children with special needs. While it’s a great starting place, there are thousands of parents and caregivers in the state who would like access to a similar option for their children.  Here is one grandmother’s story.

LaTonya Farmer is a mother of five and a grandmother of four. All five of her children attended public schools in the Memphis, TN area and have since graduated.  She recalls being frustrated at the bare bones education her children received. It was just enough to get by.  She had hoped that her children would be pushed and that extra curricular academic opportunities would be offered. She tells a story of her daughter’s on-going high school experience of never having permanent teachers. There was substitute after substitute, and when her daughter graduated from high school there was still not a permanent English teacher.  “How is this in the best interest of kids?” she asks.

Her son was a basketball player. He was one of the better players on the team. Instead of pushing him academically in the classroom, the school focused their attention on making sure he pushed the ball up and down the court.  He was socially promoted so he could play ball.

Farmer said she pushed back. She started a petition drive to change the school leadership. She took her concerns to the school board, but was met with resistance and labeled a “problem” parent.

Now Ms. Farmer has four grandchildren. She sees little change in the school system. She was first introduced to the concept of private school choice in 2011 when the Memphis SCLC, which she is the secretary, became involved with the American Federation for Children. Once she understood the concept she was 100% on board. “I don’t understand why a Pell Grant and a private school voucher/ ESA are so different. If a voucher or ESA will help my grandchildren gain access to a better education then that’s what I want! Parents need more control. Giving parents a real choice in their child’s education is what we want and need.”

Until a bold, broader private school choice law is passed in the state, Ms. Farmer will continue to fight. Her grandchildren and future great-grandchildren are counting on her.