Controversial school voucher proposal could cut $18M from SCS

SHELBY COUNTY, TN (WMC) - A controversial school voucher proposal being considered in the Tennessee state legislature could cut $18 million from the budget of Shelby County Schools if passed.

The figures come from a fiscal note recently posted with the bill filed by state Senator Brian Kelsey. Critics have claimed that his bill unfairly targets Memphis.

"We still have set, fixed costs, infrastructure costs that cannot be made up just by removing four or five students," said Teresa Jones, SCS board member.

Jones said any funding change is a concern.

Under Kelsey's voucher proposal filed earlier this year, 5,000 vouchers would be offered to start and then capped at 20,000 by the 2020-2021 school year. The vouchers could be used to send SCS students to private schools.

But problematic for SCS board members is the fact that SCS is the only district statewide to qualify for the program, because it has at least 30 schools performing in the bottom five percent of state standards.

"It just seems to single Shelby County out," said Jones.

New numbers from the state legislature's fiscal review committee show Shelby County Schools would lose nearly $8.9 million in funding in 2017-2018. That number would grow to more than $18 million in later years.

And the program would cost the state of Tennessee money to run, with two employees hired to oversee the program. The documents state it would cost $330,400 to run the program in year one and $230,400 in later years.

"Shelby County Schools is closely monitoring the state bill involving school vouchers as we move forward in our budget development process. However, it's premature to speculate on any impact the proposed legislation might have on the District," the district commented in a statement on Wednesday morning.

Kelsey told WMC Action News 5 he was confident the measure has strong support in Nashville this session. He also said students in failing schools deserve chances to go to better schools as soon as possible. The item is set to be heard in a Senate committee on March 8.

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