A bill was filed in the Tennessee legislature to establish vouchers for students in Shelby County. It would divert $18 million from the district, which is already one of the most fiscally disadvantaged districts in the nation.

The voucher program would deepen the fiscal distress of the district. With the amount of the vouchers, students would not be accepted at first-rate private schools but at low-quality religious schools that teach creationism.

The bill, filed by Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, includes language that only students in districts with at least 30 schools in the bottom 5 percent in the state in academic performance would be eligible for a voucher. SCS is the only district in Tennessee with that many low-performing schools.

Students would also have to be zoned to or currently attending a school in the bottom 5 percent and would have to meet-age-and-income requirements.

The bill creates a phased-in Opportunity Scholarship Pilot Program that would eventually offer 20,000 students a scholarship to attend private school.

In the 2017-18 school year, the program would cost SCS an estimated $8.8 million in funding, followed by $13.6 million the year after and $18.6 million in 2019-2020. That assumes students claim just 25 percent of each year’s available vouchers.

The program would also cost the state a one-time expense of $330,094 in 2017-18 and a recurring expense of $230,394 in administrative costs per year. Vouchers would be worth just over $7,000 and would increase slightly each year.

Kelsey said Monday the funding loss for SCS would be proportional to the number of students the district would no longer have to educate. The bill also only diverts state money, and requires students using a voucher to be counted toward the enrollment of their local school district. That means the district still retains local funds for them.

“The beauty is they no longer have to educate the child, and yet they’re still getting paid some money,” Kelsey said.

What Kelsey fails to acknowledge is that the public schools that lose students would have to increase class sizes, would have to cut back on arts programs and other parts of the curriculum, but still must pay the cost of buildings and grounds, heating and cooling, and other locked-in expenses. If 10% of the students leave, the schools can’t pay 10% less for electricity.

Does Kelsey know that no voucher program in the U.S. has shown significant benefits to students? Does he care?