ROGERSVILLE - Some politicians in Nashville may support a voucher program but Hawkins County officials want everyone to know they oppose using any tax funds to support private schools. A task force was appointed in 2011 by Republican Governor Bill Haslam to study how a voucher system should be implemented. Recently Ron Ramsey, the Speaker of the Tennessee State Senate, predicted that the next legislative session will see the Senate consider the proposal for a limited voucher program. Ramsey also suggested he would consider a pilot program that will, initially, be limited to urban areas where there is a bigger selection of private schools voucher recipients can choose from. The Hawkins County Board of Education adopted a resolution opposing any voucher plan last November and the Hawkins County Commission's Education Committee addressed the subject when it met November 1. Director of Schools Charlotte Britton suggested the committee and the full legislative body might consider adopting similar resolutions. The school board resolution states, in part, "voucher programs divert critical dollars and commitment from public schools to pay private school tuition for a few students, including many who already attend private schools." The BOE resolution also notes that vouchers "leave many students behind" because private schools are not required to accept and serve all students or offer special services mandated by the laws a public system must follow. "It always helps, as you know, to explain your views to those representing us in Nashville," Britton explained. County Mayor Melville Bailey pointed out that State Representative Mike Harrison's wife, Nikki, works for the Rogersville City School, a public school system, and he should be very aware of the problems vouchers could cause. Newly elected State Senator Frank Niceley should also be made aware of local concerns, the county mayor said. "The main problem I see, what money is lost from our tax dollars will go to private schools. It all boils down to tax dollars and who gets the benefit of them," Committee Chairman Virgil Mallett stated. Britton noted the county currently receives $9,123 per pupil from the state, while $8,826 of local funding is used to provide services. "If the vouchers did pass what money are we looking at losing, just the $9,100 or that and the $8,800, together?" Commissioner Charlie Newton inquired. "Right now, the state money follows the students," Britton replied. The committee voted to send a similar resolution to the one adopted by the BOE to the full commission. If the body passes the proposal it would then be forwarded to state legislators.
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