School vouchers could have impact in Memphis - FOX13 News, WHBQ FOX 13

School vouchers could have impact in Memphis

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (FOX13) -

The next hot topic in public education, may also be the most controversial one. The Opportunity Scholarship Bill, or vouchers, will be debated in Nashville next legislative session.

This bill is statewide, but with the impoverished population in Memphis, it will have the biggest impact.

Mary Abraham has three children who go to The Neighborhood School in Binghampton.  She plans to send her pre-schooler there as well.

"It's a wonderful environment and opportunity for kids in the inner city and parents that can't afford it," says Abraham.  "But they're able to come here and know that their kids are going to get a quality education."

The Neighborhood School is a private Christian K-8 program that focuses on children that would have fallen through the cracks at a traditional public school.  The entire school is run on donations; the families pay tuition based on income.

The Abraham's only pay $100 a year.  It costs more than $5,000 to educate one child for one year.

Jo Walt founded the school in 1993.  She says the voucher program would make a huge impact on the school.

"It would mean we could have a lot of programs we don't have now that we'd be able to have," says Walt.  "The library would be quite different.  We have the funding for it.  All sorts of very special things the children could do they can't do now."

Any child who receives free or reduced lunch would be able to take their public funding and apply it to private school tuition.  The exact amount hasn't been determined, but it would be somewhere between $6,200 and $9,200 a year per pupil.
But Keith Williams with the Memphis Education Association says the plan is taking badly needed funding away from the public school system.
"When you start talking about dividing that money, you are going to inadvertently take away from the great public schools," says Williams.  "So now you you're talking about taking thousands of dollars, going to these already well financed schools.  What does that do for the good of the public?"

The state has spent the last year reforming how schools are held accountable, by tracking child performance and reviewing teachers.  Private schools do not have this kind of accountability.

"There is no way to measure what goes on in a private school," says Williams.  "They use a different kind of measuring tool.  They are not a part of the Race to the Top or No Child Left Behind.  They do not have to do anything."

But Senator Brian Kelsey of Germantown says accountability for the private schools is important.

"The exact aspects of the accountability are under discussion," says Kelsey.  "But they absolutely will be in the bill and are important to making this work."

Kelsey says this is the best way to give more children better educational options.

"This bill is really going to be a great thing for some parents to finally get them some real choices on where their children are educated," says Kelsey.  "That's what it's all about, is providing hope and choice to parents."

For Abraham, this would mean her four year old would not have to worry about donations and sponsorship to get him in the school where her other children have seen so much success.

"This program would bless not only this school but other communities trying to do this same thing," says Abraham.  "If our tax dollars, and I do pay my taxes, are allocated to public school or school period, some of that should be able to be used toward if you want take your kid to a private school."

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