Climate Ripe For School Voucher Expansion As Controversial Education Practices Causes Shift From Public Schools 

Image Credit: The Maine Wire

By David Seal [Special to The Tennessee Conservative] –

The stars are in alignment for the expansion of school vouchers across Tennessee. All obstacles have been removed by the court system and broad public support for school vouchers is being driven by a variety of factors. This article examines some of those factors.

Currently, school vouchers are limited to Davidson and Shelby Counties within a pilot program enacted by the Tennessee legislature. A number of stakeholders aim to change this.

Even without vouchers, parents with the financial means are already pulling their children out of public schools to enroll them in private ones. Many are homeschooling as well. In Jefferson County alone, the number of students enrolled in non-public schools had reached 735 students at the end of the 21-22 school year (11% of current student enrollment), reflecting the public-school exodus that is occurring nationwide.  Non-Public Enrollment Report May 2022

The shift is fueled by student and parent discontent with the public school system.

The reasons for parent and student discontent are as follows: 1) health and safety concerns, 2) inconsistent application of school rules, 3) fear of violence, 4) limits on constitutional freedom of expression, 5) dependency on standardized testing, 6) perceived lack of academic rigor, 7) inefficient use of instructional time, 8) dissatisfaction with school discipline practices, 9) limits on school prayer, and 10) perception of indoctrination.

The capstone of all parent/student discontent is the use controversial educational practices and the data mining of student’s personal information. Social Emotional Learning (SEL) is the catalyst from which data mining occurs. SEL also serves as a mechanism to infuse critical education theories into public school curriculum, primarily under the veil of “Student Mental health” and “trauma-informed” practices. Federal grant funding increased dramatically for these controversial practices during the Covid-19 “pandemic”.

Citizen activists, private schools, news media outlets, private religious schools, conservative thinktanks, and public interest lobbyist groups are joining parents in the effort to promote school vouchers. Until recently, a series of obstacles in the court system hampered the progression of school vouchers. Those barriers have been lifted.

Four major court cases have cleared the path for school vouchers in Tennessee. Three cases decided by the United States Supreme Court, Zelman v. Simmons-Harris  and Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue held that public money can be used at religious affiliated schools; and the Carson v. Makin decision held that public money can be used to educate students at schools that teach religion, all of which were landmark cases tried by attorneys at the Institute for Justice, a national public interest law firm. One case specific to Tennessee is METROPOLITAN GOVERNMENT OF NASHVILLE AND DAVIDSON COUNTY, ET AL. v. TENNESSEE DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, ET AL., decided May 18, 2022, by the Tennessee Supreme Court holds that school vouchers, as enacted by the Tennessee General Assembly in 2019, does not violate the “home rule” provision of the Tennessee Constitution, meaning that school vouchers can move forward as enacted.

Larger county and city governments have an immediate financial incentive to favor school vouchers. A 2020 Beacon Center of Tennessee study reveals that certain local governments can realize substantial savings per student when students transfer from public schools to private ones through vouchers; smaller communities could see a decline in funding until the TISA funding model is implemented one year from now.

Mark Cunningham, Beacon Center of Tennessee Vice President of Communications and Outreach stated the following for this article.

In a 2020 report we did, we found that unfortunately due to how the current ESA program is structured most rural LEAs, including Jefferson, would actually lose money per student. However, we expect that to change once TISA is fully implemented [2024] with Jefferson county receiving an extra $8.2 million in funds, we just can’t know an exact amount yet. In the meantime, we found in 2018 that there would be huge economic benefits for Tennesseans from a statewide ESA due to higher graduation rates including: 

  1. An increase in the number of high school graduates in the state by 13,480, leading to $2.9 billion in economic benefits by 2038: and
  2. An increase in overall personal income in the state by $683 million by 2038; and
  3. Reduce the number of felons in the state by 15,451 and the number of misdemeanants by 21,380, producing societal benefits of $685 million by 2038.”

A [Beacon] commissioned study on the Economic impact of statewide school vouchers (ESA’s) in Tennessee is linked here: BCN_ESAReport_v3.pdf (

It remains to be seen if state legislators yield to the myriad of arguments and public pressure for expanding school vouchers beyond the pilot program. However, the light is now green for school choice in the state of Tennessee.

*Note: This article originally appeared in The Jefferson County Post. Republished here due to submission by the author.

David Seal is a retired Jefferson County educator, recognized artist, local businessman, 917 Society Volunteer, and current Chairman of the Jefferson County Republican Party. He has also served Jefferson County as a County Commissioner and is a lobbyist for the people on issues such as eminent domain, property rights, education, and broadband accessibility on the state level.

2 thoughts on “Climate Ripe For School Voucher Expansion As Controversial Education Practices Causes Shift From Public Schools 

  • October 17, 2022 at 10:33 pm

    If Public Schools continue to suffer in Academics with Government mandates and lack of respect for parental rights then vouchers should be considered to protect parents constitutional rights and not exclusively a benefit for the wealthy.

  • October 18, 2022 at 12:28 am

    School choice should be a right, not something bounced back and forth among politicians and unions. If the Public Schools can’t meet minimal education standards and graduation rates, then the student is being punished for the malfeasance of the system and the taxpayers are being ripped off.


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