Senate Passes School-Choice Legislation

Press Release from the Senate Republican Caucus, April 21, 2011:

(NASHVILLE, TN), April 21, 2011 — Legislation giving low income students an opportunity to receive an “Equal Opportunity Scholarship” to attend the school of their choice has received final approval in the full Senate. The bill applies to students who are eligible for free and reduced-price lunch in Memphis, Shelby County, Nashville, Chattanooga, and Knoxville schools.

“Equal Opportunity Scholarships provide impoverished children with hope for a better education and choice in the school they attend,” said Senator Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown), sponsor of the bill. “With this bill, children need no longer be victims of their own geography.”

Prime co-sponsor Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey (R-Blountville) added, “Children should not be forced to attend a failing school just because they live in a certain neighborhood. Equal Opportunity Scholarships will allow all children to receive the quality education they deserve.”

“By introducing more competition and choice, Equal Opportunity Scholarships have proven in other states to make all schools run more efficiently,” said Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), a prime co-sponsor.

The scholarships would be in the amount of half the money that state and local school systems spend on each child, which amounts to $5,400 per year in Memphis City Schools, $4,200 in Shelby County Schools, $5,400 in Nashville Schools, $4,600 in Chattanooga Schools, and $4,300 in Knoxville Schools.

The scholarship money could be used to attend any school that parents choose, including public charter schools, parochial schools, independent schools, or other public schools within the district if space is available.

Nine of the ten “random-assignment” studies on opportunity scholarships have concluded that reading and math scores of students with opportunity scholarships increased 6-12 percentage points after the first few years compared to low-income students who lost the lottery to receive a scholarship. In the newly reinstated D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, co-sponsored by Sen. Lamar Alexander, students receiving the scholarship graduated at a rate 12 percent higher than those low-income students who lost the lottery to receive a scholarship. Random-assignment studies are considered the “gold standard” in social science research because they are apples-to-apples comparisons, controlling for income status and parental involvement.

Twenty-one of the twenty-two empirical studies of the effects of opportunity scholarships on public schools have shown public school student scores increase 3-15 percent when opportunity scholarships are offered.

Equal Opportunity Scholarships increase the money available per pupil in public schools. When a student leaves a public school to attend another school, not one local dollar leaves the school system. The school district retains half the funds that were spent on the student at the public school, which ranges from $4,200 to $5,400. Therefore, per pupil expenditures at the public school increase.