Some of the 24 Catholic schools in Memphis might not accept school vouchers if their students have to take Tennessee’s state tests, a lobbyist told lawmakers on Wednesday.
“We’ve heard that to take the state test means to teach the state test, and if that changes our curriculum, I don’t know if we can participate,” said Jennifer Murphy, who represents the Tennessee Catholic Public Policy Commission.
Murphy didn’t specify which schools, but some have said they’re on board with state testing. Leaders of Jubilee Catholic Schools have told lawmakers that they are willing for their students to take the state’s TNReady assessment if the legislature pilots a voucher program in Memphis.
Jubilee’s participation is critical because its nine schools, which serve mostly low-income Memphis families, are among the city’s only private schools that have expressed interest in the voucher program making its way through the Tennessee legislature. Tuition at many private schools in Memphis is significantly higher than the voucher amount of $7,000 each year, and the bill would not allow schools to charge more than the voucher’s value.
How to hold private schools accountable if they accept public funds has been central to the voucher debate in Tennessee and nationwide.
Murphy’s comments came during a lengthy debate in the House Government and Operations Committee and appeared to slow the momentum for a voucher bill. The clock ran out Wednesday before members could vote on the measure, and they are scheduled to pick it up again next week.
In the Senate, the proposal is awaiting action by the chamber’s finance committee.
Correction: March 29, 2017: A previous version of this story said that Jubilee Catholic Schools might not participate in a voucher plan if their students have to take state tests. Representatives of Jubilee said Wednesday that the network is open both to accepting vouchers and administering state tests to participating students.