AIM Investigates: How school choice has advanced in Tennessee since our hidden-camera video was released

September 7, 2022

By Tim Worstall

In March 2022, Accuracy in Media released a hidden-camera video investigation in Tennessee.

There, AIM caught school administrators saying that they were still teaching Critical Race Theory. They might have changed the name to Social and Emotional Learning, or changed it once again from that, but the ideas and structures were exactly the same. That educational bureaucracy was just going to keep on doing the same whatever the parents of the legislature thought about it.

We’ve been pointing this out at least all year; the issue has only just made the Wall Street Journal. Even if CRT is taught directly in K-12, all the teachers are instructed on how to teach using the theory. It’s so embedded in the structure of the teachers’ unions and school management structures that just trying to tell them not to do it doesn’t work.

A lot has happened since the release of the video. It gained 500,000 views – many from people in Tennessee – and it has aided in the advance of educational freedom. These are not battles won with a single tactic, unfortunately. So full school choice is still not available. Tennessee already had a system of public schools, charter schools, magnet schools (which teach to a particular goal, say the International Baccalaureate) and of course private schools. There was a limited program for special needs students to receive a voucher who could be spent at whatever was the best result for them – even a private school.

In May, the Tennessee State Supreme Court finally allowed an expansion of the voucher scheme to low- and middle-income students from two counties (Shelby County and Metro Nashville, where the school systems are at their worst). This doesn’t depend on special education needs — those who meet the income requirement can spend that state education budget at any school of their choice, including a private one. This is legislation that some Tennessee lawmakers have been trying to pass since 2019, but it has been tied up in court challenges. 

It’s also obviously a way in which school choice can be expanded. There’s an education budget per child, send the budget where the parents of the child want the education to take place.

The school districts concerned are, of course, complaining bitterly – they will lose budget. Never mind that the children will now be educated as their parents prefer – losing budget is a fearful thing for a bureaucracy.

The battle for further school choice will depend on the coming elections. The current governor, Bill Lee, is a strong supporter of school choice and he’s running for re-election this November. His opponent, Jason Martin, has declared himself to be against vouchers.

In the longer term, the development is likely to be, if all things go well, that the current two-county program is expanded to cover more areas of the state. Further, the income limit (up to 200% of poverty level, plus free school lunch eligibility) be expanded to all students. That this test does expand is, of course, reliant entirely on political pressure from voters.


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