Improving public education and preparing today’s students to enter the workforce is a top priority of the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce. Last week, the Chamber kicked off a new opportunity for our members to engage in education policy issues. Members of the Chamber’s volunteer education committee will meet quarterly and study education policy issues as they arise locally or at the state level.
Our first meeting included a brief overview of the Chamber’s education initiatives as well as a committee discussion about school vouchers, a program that would allow families that meet certain criteria to use public tax dollars to pay for private school tuition. Jayme Place, education policy advisor to Governor Haslam, detailed the work of a taskforce established by the governor to study various design elements critical to a state voucher program. The taskforce, chaired by Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman, has researched best practices and interviewed voucher experts as they develop a report to present to the governor identifying what elements should be included within a Tennessee program. Transportation for students, eligibility and accountability were among the most important and vigorously debated issues as the taskforce sketched out a possible scholarship program.
Talk of vouchers in Tennessee is not new. Just last year, the Chamber opposed legislation that would have created a voucher program in Tennessee’s four largest counties because it failed to provide a scholarship that would have adequately covered tuition at a majority of the quality independent high schools in Middle Tennessee. The 2011 legislation also failed to provide the accountability measures necessary to measure the academic success of voucher recipients. The Chamber is hopeful that any proposals debated in 2013 will provide real choice with accountability.
Members of the Chamber’s new education committee will be called upon to engage the community and lawmakers on this and many other issues. The next topic for the committee will be charter schools and the impact a statewide authorizer may have on school quality and oversight. For information on education issues tracked by the Chamber now and during the 2013 legislative session, please review our advocacy tool, Business Voice. Ernie Brown and Cynthia Wiel take part in a conversation on school vouchers.
David DeMarco and John Eason listen in on an overview of the Chamber’s education initiatives. Click here for more photos from the meeting.