VanHuss: To say vouchers will not negatively impact school funding is ‘not genuine’

Published 3:08 pm Thursday, December 21, 2023

By Buzz Trexler
Star Correspondent
Having already gone on the record as being against Gov. Bill Lee’s proposed statewide school choice voucher program, Elizabethton Director of Schools Richard VanHuss said during a regular Board of Education meeting earlier this week that those who say it will not decrease public education funds are not being “genuine.”

“As a public educator and being in public education for 27 years, my opinion is it’s not good for public education,” VanHuss said. “Anything that may defer or take funding away from public schools is not a good thing.”

On Nov. 28, Lee proposed a new statewide school choice program that would provide 20,000 students up to $7,075 each to attend private or home schools, with a plan to expand to universal eligibility in 2025. The current program, Tennessee Education Savings Account Act, was passed in 2019 and was restricted to Shelby and Davidson counties, but this year was expanded by the General Assembly to include Hamilton County. Knox County was also slated for inclusion in the most recent expansion but was removed from the bill.

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VanHuss explained that public school systems receive funding on a student-based funding formula. If a student who is enrolled in a public school decides to enroll in a private school, the $6,800 the system would have received for that student “walks out the door.”

“That’s the reality,” VanHuss said. “So, anyone that says that it won’t negatively impact public education funding, that’s not genuine. That’s not a genuine comment, in my opinion. So, it will negatively impact.”

The implication is that those who are in public education are “scared of competition” is not true, VanHuss said. “We’re not scared of competition, but we do expect fair competition,” he said, adding that “anyone that takes that state funding should be held to the same accountability standards and requirements that we are.”

The director said he appreciated the recent comments made by state Rep. John Holsclaw, a Republican who represents Unicoi and part of Carter County, including Elizabethton.

“I do appreciate John Holsclaw and his strong stance as far as his view vouchers and his opinion, and he’s vehemently opposed to that, and I’m very appreciative of that,” VanHuss said. “And I know that those in our community that support public education appreciate that as well.”

Holsclaw told The Star earlier this month, “I’m definitely not in favor of the new voucher program that the governor is proposing. I know and understand that this will pull much-needed funding from our public school systems which we can’t afford to take out because every dollar is needed to operate effectively.

“When money is taken from your public schools it will affect special programs and will eventually affect the number of qualified teachers in the classroom,” Holsclaw said. “In East Tennessee, we rely heavily on our public schools to provide the much-needed education for our children. So we must strongly oppose this legislation from the governor.”

Photo Named NW1222 Vanhuss vouchers
Buzz Trexler/Star Correspondent
Elizabethton Director of Schools Richard VanHuss gives a report to school board members during Tuesday’s regular meeting. During the meeting, VanHuss said those who say Gov. Bill Lee’s school voucher program will not decrease public education funds are not being “genuine.”