The following is what I read publically at the Formal School Board Meeting on Tuesday, March 26 when Mrs. Carol Berry brought forth a resolution for the board to vote on opposing School Choice in Tennessee.

The following was also published as an op-ed on Clarksville Now.

Tonight, I am opposed to Mrs. Berry’s resolution.

I support many options for learning, including public schools, home-schooling, micro-schools, career and technical education, private or parochial schools, magnet schools, charter schools, online learning, and early-college high schools—whatever the parent feels is best for their child. Not only am I for the diverse sources of education, but recent polling suggests that 68% of Tennesseans, including 85% of Republicans and 56% of Democrats, are also for school choice. Indeed, the majority of Tennesseans are for this measure.

I am a huge proponent of Governor Bill Lee’s call for School Choice in Tennessee. As the Education Freedom Scholarship stands, this program will be funded separately from TISA, which means there will only be an indirect impact on school districts if someone takes advantage of this scholarship, the same as any student already leaving for these other choices.

Also, currently, as the legislation stands 80% of the house bill is going to fund Public Schools. Many agenda items that CMCSS, TSBA, and teachers across this county have desired this bill is going to answer. The base per student will rise from $6,860 to $7,075. If this bill passes, the TISA funding formula base will increase by $215 per student, resulting in an overall increase of roughly $8,385,000. In addition, the bill will give $75 per student enrolled in the district for capital projects. This is a combined total of roughly $11,385,000 of new revenue going to CMCSS.

The Education Freedom Scholarship School Choice funding will initially be for 20,000 students statewide, about 2% of the student population. The legislation has it built in that it will step up incrementally only if certain thresholds are met. Half of these scholarships would be set aside based on income, and the other half would be for anyone who applies. The income basis would mean a family of four would have to make roughly less than $126,000 a year. I’ve contacted local private schools in the area and inquired about tuition costs. The suggested $7,075 is indeed lower than the full tuition, but many of our local private schools have scholarship opportunities that are also income-based and have suggested that it is a real possibility that a student’s complete tuition could be paid in conjunction with the tuition paid for by the Education Freedom Scholarship or become very affordable.

In this bill, the assumption of those who do choose to enroll in a private school is that 60% of them will have already been in private the private school and that 40% will be enrolling out of Public Schools based on similar legislation passed in other states.

With all of this, the truth is that Montgomery County is a fast-growing district with an average of 1,200 students per year. With the base rising and additional funding added to public schools, this legislation will add to the budget of CMCSS by the millions, not take away, and it will be the beginning steps to allow school choice to get off the ground in Tennessee. In states with similar legislation, once School Choice is widely and fully available, 90% of all students in the state stay in public schools.

I believe parents are a child’s first and foremost educators and have primary responsibility for their children’s education. Parents have a right to direct their children’s education, care, and upbringing. We should fund children, not specific systems, and allow ones individual’s tax dollars to go to the schooling of their choice. The vast majority will choose CMCSS, but I believe it should be their choice.

So once again, and I am against this resolution.

Aron Maberry
School Board Member – District 7
Candidate for the State Legislature – District 68