- Tennessee’s Chamber Maids
Nothing is worse for freedom and opportunity than when big business conspires with big labor. Behold the spectacle in Tennessee, where the Chambers of Commerce in Chattanooga, Knoxville and Nashville have joined with the teachers unions to kill education vouchers.
That proposal, which has already passed the state senate, would give thousands of low- and middle-income parents in failing school districts private school options. The Tennessee Equal Opportunity Scholarship Act would provide vouchers of between $4,000 and $5,000 per child to families with an income up to roughly $42,000 a year and who live in one of the four largest school districts, including Memphis and Nashville.
In an April 27 letter repeating nearly every discredited voucher myth peddled by unions, the CEOs of the local chambers advise lawmakers to oppose the bill. The letter claims that private school funding “diverts resources away from public school improvement,” that “there is no empirical data demonstrating that vouchers improve student achievement,” and that private schools lack “accountability” and won’t be subject to “high academic standards.”
That last complaint is tragicomic given that Memphis schools typically rank among the nation’s five worst with fewer than half of black males graduating from high school. A 2010 progress report under the No Child Left Behind program found that 52% of Tennessee third graders flunked math and reading tests and 75% of eight graders failed math. How could private schools possibly be worse?
As for the “empirical data,” nearly a dozen studies have found high parental satisfaction with voucher schools or higher graduation rates. Perhaps the chamber CEOs should talk to the mostly minority parents in Milwaukee and Washington, D.C., where vouchers have been very popular. And no, the scholarship plan doesn’t rob public schools of scarce dollars. The vouchers are capped at 50% of the per-student costs of the public schools.
The Tennessee chambers aren’t nearly as opposed to public money going to private institutions when they receive the checks. A study by the Tennessee Center for Policy Research discovered that over the past several years the Chattanooga Chamber has received $450,000 in state and local funds. The Nashville Chamber has received nearly $3 million in taxpayer subsidies.
We doubt a single child of officials in these chambers of commerce attends a school in the poor parts of Memphis or other places where dreams die before high school. Yet these captains of industry are willing to deny that choice to others. Business executives who really want to make the U.S. more competitive ought to stop contributing to lobbies that want to preserve the dreadful status quo.
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