State Legislatures Could Move Local School Funds

Tennessee enacted its first compulsory attendance law for public schools in 1905. The school year was adapted for traditional agricultural summer work schedules. With that also came an established curriculum of what children should learn at incremental age levels in grades one through twelve. Counties and cities established school districts governed by local elected or appointed school boards.

Public schools and churches shared a common purpose of "Raising up children in the way they should go." School included Bible reading, recitation of prayer and Bible verses. In the 1920s the South was in a wave of religious revivalism. Through the efforts of William Jennings Bryan, fifteen states enacted laws prohibiting the teaching of evolution in public schools. Tennessee enacted a bill introduced by John Butler making it unlawful "to teach any theory that denies the story of divine creation as taught by the Bible and to teach instead that man was descended from a lower order of animals." This was the background for the court challenge in the Scopes Trial in Dayton, Tennessee in 1925.

In 1954, the Brown v. Board of Education decision declared racially segregated schools unconstitutional. This led to massive establishment of alternative private and church schools in a movement derisively called "white flight."

In 1962 and 1963, the Supreme Court, in three specific cases, ruled that school sanctioned compulsory religious practice and compelled religious recitation were unconstitutional. This led to a proliferation of Protestant schools. Catholic parents had earlier established parochial schools following court cases challenging discrimination against Catholic children.

In 1983, seven families in East Tennessee began a fight to remove their children from a reading class, which used a textbook the families considered inappropriate. In the process, some of these children were expelled for refusal to do assignments from this book, and a mother was arrested and imprisoned. In 1984, five other Tennessee families were arrested and charged with truancy.

In 1985, Governor Lamar Alexander signed home-school legislation into law that legalized homeschooling in Tennessee for K-12 and allowed for the designation of Tennessee as a "Private School Option Homeschooling State."

The Home School Association filed a class action lawsuit against the Department of Education for its refusal to grant waivers to homeschooling parents without college degrees to teach high school, which is allowed in the Tennessee law. In 1990, the state granted the first waiver from having a Bachelor's Degree in order to home-school through high school. In 1991, Governor Ned McWherter signed into law the bill allowing church-related home-schools, which would remove home-school children from all accountability to local school districts.

The continuing compromise between public education and questions of parental rights continues today in laws related to school choice. Currently the Legislature is proposing changes that could override local school boards authority over authorizing charter schools. There is a move toward privatization of charter schools with public funds transferred to for-profit schools over which the local school district has no jurisdiction. In some states, students are being issued taxpayer-funded vouchers, which enable students to attend sectarian schools, but maybe not better private schools.

We all support parental choice. Public schools are mandated to provide quality education taught by certified highly qualified teachers for all students-including gifted and special needs students. Parents have the right to remove students from public schools and from public school curriculum, extra-curricular, and athletic participation. In fairness, taxpayer funding should not be transferred from public schools to any alternative education over which the local school district has no jurisdiction or approval of textbook content, standardized tests and recognition of academic achievement.

Bill Peach is a retired business owner who writes on faith and politics. He is the author of Politics, Preaching & Philosophy and lives in historic Franklin, TN.

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