State Rep. Judd Matheny and his challenger, Scott Price, don’t agree on a number of educational initiatives. Those differences were easy to see Thursday night during a Southern Standard and WCPI political forum at Warren County High School.
When it comes to education, Price spoke against charter schools and a proposed voucher program state lawmakers are considering. The voucher program would give every student in the state a set amount of money, say $4,000 for example, to use at the school of their choice. They could stay in the public school system or use the money toward tuition at a private school.
Charter schools are private schools which could attain funding from the state under certain situation. As a public school teacher at Central High School in Manchester, Price spoke against the voucher program.
“The voucher system is not going to reform education in Tennessee,” said Price. “Charter schools are unproven. Why are we throwing money at things that are not going to work? Reform happens when that door closes and that adult stands up there in the classroom and makes a difference in those kids lives. A $4,000 voucher to go to Sewanee that costs $19,000 a year is not going to get you into Sewanee. It’s not going to get you into Webb. I don’t understand why that has become the method of choice when it comes to education reform in Tennessee. We have almost 1 million students in public schools in Tennessee and we need to focus on them.”
Matheny countered by saying more choices will help improve the state’s educational product.
“Any time you take competition out of something, it’s going to flatline and it’s going to erode,” said Matheny. “Our public schools are not keeping us competitive so we have to do something else. Charter schools started as a pilot project in larger cities and now it’s expanded statewide, but it’s still up to the local education agencies if they want to participate in a charter school type of relationship. A charter school is a school that still has to meet core curriculum standards but they can be hyper focused on a specialty and they can bring private money in. Vouchers are another potential to put additional competition into the education marketplace.”
The candidates questioned each other about their stances on education. Price asked Matheny about his support for Tennessee Virtual Academy, an upstart program that allows K-12 students to take classes at home on the Internet instead of attending school. After one year, students involved in the Virtual Academy have not tested well.
“The virtual schools are yet another opportunity the General Assembly put on the marketplace,” said Matheny. “Remember states are supposed to be the laboratories of good ideas. That doesn’t mean we do what the federal government tells us to do all the time. It says if we see a better way and think there’s a better way, we explore it. The virtual schools have some possibilities. We do know there are some negatives with that. Because of that we set it up on a two-year pilot program that sunsets in two years. We are in the second year. The program is sunsetting. If there are positives, we will look to put those into another program or another virtual school program. If there are negatives, which we know there are some, we will look to make sure those don’t occur elsewhere in the various other educational products were are putting forward.”
Matheny asked Price about his criticism of the state’s new education initiatives. Matheny asked Price to give a specific example of a program that upsets him.
“I don’t know if upset would be the accurate word,” said Price. “I think not represented would be the accurate word. When you first got elected, you said you would have town hall meetings often. And during the 2011 session, where the most sweeping changes in education occurred, you never had a called town hall meeting with teachers. If you’re going to make any change to education, I see it in my classroom. There’s no particular issue I can think of. It was the lack of representation and you should have called a meeting with teachers and talked with all of them in this district. What I’m afraid of is who’s next? Who are you not going to represent next?”
Matheny says he believes he has represented the people of 47th District well in his 10 years in Nashville.
“My job is to make the best decisions for the most people,” said Matheny. “You elect me and send me to Nashville thinking, under most circumstances, I will vote the way you vote and I can confidently say I’ve done that. I’ve protected your freedoms and I’ve preserved your rights.”
Price says his job as a high school geometry teacher puts him in touch with the community and he will use that relationship if he’s elected.
“I want to send my caring attitude to Nashville,” said Price. “I am a career educator. I’m not a career politician. Our state constitution is designed for our House to be fluid, to change often because it does need to stay close to the community, and as a teacher I feel like I am very close to this community.”