School Choice in Tennessee: An Administrator’s Point of View

April 4, 2024 1:08PM

Written by Robert Stacey, Ph.D., Head of School at Augustine School in Jackson, Tennessee

When asked about color varieties for his new Model T, Henry Ford famously replied, “The customer can have any color he likes, so long as it’s black.” Ford eventually relented, but unfortunately, that same narrow sentiment has largely prevailed in contemporary American education. Our public schools take a “one-size-fits-all” approach to educating our children with little regard for the wishes and insights of parents.

We seem to have forgotten a fundamental truth of the human experience. There is no greater earthly bond than the bond between parent and child. And with that natural closeness comes awareness. Nobody understands the unique needs and gifts of a child better than his or her own parents. It is ironic and rather misguided, then, that we tend to marginalize parents when it comes to the education of children in America.

As a country and as a state, we invest heavily in the education of our children, but we tend to squeeze kids into a uniform system that fails to account for real differences that attentive parents know and understand. That is why I believe Governor Bill Lee’s proposed Education Freedom Scholarship program is so critical for the future of Tennessee and its families. 

I have the honor of leading a private classical Christian school in Jackson, Tennessee called Augustine School. Our educational model is quite different from that prevailing in public schools—focusing on critical thinking, sound judgment, virtue, and wisdom. Our rigorous classical curriculum and character formation are not for everyone. But among those parents who choose the education we offer, we have a proven track record of success in preparing our graduates for meaningful, fulfilling, and productive lives.

Augustine is not some elitist prep school. Like many other service-oriented private schools, we are priced modestly because we want to reach as many like-minded families as possible. But education is never actually free, and every year I have to have disappointing conversations with parents who desperately want what we provide, but lack the means to afford tuition. My colleagues at other community schools tell me they regularly experience the same thing. 

This is where Education Freedom Scholarships can have a significant impact in our state by offering Tennessee parents the opportunity to choose the education that best fits their children. No more would families have to live with the “one-size-fits-all” model when it doesn’t support their children’s particular gifts and aspirations.

Imagine a near future where parents are no longer constrained by financial resources to embrace an educational model that does not meet their needs but rather are free to choose the school that best aligns with their well-informed hopes and aspirations for their children. 

All of us enjoy the freedom to choose when we marry a spouse, buy a car, or simply purchase a cup of coffee. Why shouldn’t parents have the freedom to choose the education they believe best suits their own children?