PHOTO: School board member Brad Fiscus discusses the resolution regarding vouchers during Wednesday night’s WCS Board of Education work session. / Photo by John McBryde
By JOHN McBRYDE
The way Brad Fiscus looks at it, school vouchers are to public education as greasy fries are to a healthy diet — there’s just too much of a disconnect.
“I chose to run for school board because I have been a public school person my entire life,” said Fiscus, who was elected last August to serve as the 4th District representative on the Williamson County Schools Board of Education. “I’m concerned about the tenet going on in the current General Assembly that they believe [vouchers] are an answer to help underperforming schools. The research just doesn’t show that.”
Fiscus presented a draft of a resolution at the close of Wednesday night’s school board work session, five nights after board members had visited with the four state legislators representing Williamson County. Among several topics discussed at that Saturday morning meeting, Sen. Jack Johnson, R-23rd District, spoke of the virtues of vouchers and education savings accounts (ESA).
He mentioned a caption bill had been filed that, if passed, would create a pilot program that would allow vouchers for parents in counties or districts with underperforming schools. It would be capped at 5,000 students.
“I know there’s some philosophical disagreements at this table,” Johnson said Saturday. “But I adamantly, 100 percent, support that type of program that’s limited in scope and applies only to those failing schools. I will fight tooth and nail, as will the four of us, anything that would impact Williamson County Schools or Franklin Special School District.”
Fiscus isn’t so sure about that.
“As we heard on Saturday,” he said, “we were told that this will not affect us in Williamson County. But it will affect us eventually because if we’re limiting it to a certain number of people, when the others want to have access to [vouchers], they’ll take that to court and ask how it can be limited only to a certain area. They’ll say, ‘I want that funding, I want that for my children.’ ”
Fiscus said he was on Capitol Hill the day the 2019 General Assembly convened, voicing concern about vouchers in Tennessee as a part of the organization Pastors for Tennessee Children. Fiscus is director of Next Gen Discipleship, Tennessee Conference of the United Methodist Church.
“I’m just asking us to take a stand as a board,” Fiscus said. “I think we just need to say we believe in public education and we believe that public education funding needs to stay there because that’s where the accountability is.”
A few board members threw up caution flags on Fiscus’ resolution. Dan Cash, 2nd District, and Rick Wimberly, 9th District, both said the approach may be premature given the fact the bill hasn’t even been written yet. Jay Galbreath, 6th District, said part of the resolution seemed a little too political. Sheila Cleveland, 7th District, said she shared Fiscus’ passion about vouchers, but thought there might be a better approach.
“Listening to this discussion, this already is a discussion of whether you’re for or against vouchers, and this is not what it should be about on the school board level,” Cleveland said. “I think we could be more effective [if] rather than possibly dividing the vote on a resolution, which is not good practice, that each and every one of us talk to our legislators … saying you do not want the vouchers.”
Fiscus, however, said it’s important for the board to publicly take a stance on the issue.
“We do need to be unified on our stance on this,” he said. “We do need to be unified on what our views are on vouchers. It’s not just about the words on the page. It’s about what we believe is best for public education, and not just for this county but across Tennessee, because it’s going to affect us all.”