A look at how the school voucher program would look in Knox Co.

11:34 PM, Feb 5, 2013   |    comments
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School vouchers are a hot button political issue in our state this legislative season.

10News wanted to put politics aside and talk about how practical the current plan is for Knox County.

Governor Bill Haslam proposed a program in his State of the State address that would allow parents to use state money to enroll their child in private schools. A bill has also been filed.

In order to get a voucher, the student would have to be eligible for free and reduced lunch, as well as be zoned for a school ranked in the bottom 5% statewide.

In our viewing area, only Sarah Moore Greene Elementary students would qualify.

"It would be a possibility but it would be something me and her mother would have to think through very well," said Sarah Moore Greene Elementary School parent, Sidney Hinton.

Members of advocacy group Support our Schools wonder how feasible the program would be for Sarah Moore Greene kids.

Each child would receive the same amount the public school district spends on them per year. Knox County spends a little less than $8,000 per student.

"We all know that [amount] is not going to buy a Webb School or a CAK or an Episcopal School," said Support our Schools member, Ginna Mashburn.

For elementary private tuition at several private Knoxville schools, tuition is higher than the proposed amount.

It costs $14,950 to attend Webb School of Knoxville's elementary program each year. Christian Academy of Knoxville charges $8,256 for the elementary school. Parents pay $12,545 for Episcopal School of Knoxville's K-5 program.

But some schools like Berean Christian and Grace Christian charge a tuition that is lower than what Knox County spends per student.

"It's between $6,000 and $6,500 to put a student in our K through 6 program here. So Governor Haslam's proposal would more than cover the expenses of a parent that would like their child to come here," said Grace Christian Principal Randy Down.

Down says they welcome school vouchers. He feels everyone in the education system stands to benefit.

"There seems to be a wall between public and private [schools]. The voucher system would eradicate that wall and would force both private and public schools to evaluate their systems and not take either one for granted," Down said. "As a result you would have to build a better school from the ground up if necessary to make it competitive to make students want to come to your school."

Christian Academy of Knoxville's Superintendent Scott Sandie said they haven't taken it into consideration yet, but that it would be up to the school's board to decide if the voucher would be accepted as is or if the family would have to make up the difference. He also added the school has an "openness to making our school more affordable to others."

Webb School of Knoxville said vouchers are irrelevant to them because they will offer full financial aid to anyone who qualifies to attend. He said last year they offered $1.4 million in financial aid.

Mashburn said that she believes the money could be better spent elsewhere.

"The young people that would benefit from a voucher would be the same young people that would benefit from community schools for instance," Mashburn said.

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