If you want to get your juices boiling this morning, read the Wall Street Journal’s story on how Chambers of Commerce in Tennessee and the teacher unions in that state have joined forces to kill vouchers. I can understand why the teacher unions would commit to this selfish act. But business leaders? Don’t businesses need a literate workforce?

Tennessee has some of the country’s worse public schools. The voucher program was designed to see if something might be done to improve the educational  prospects of kids who aren’t from affluent families (I bet the C of C leaders have their off spring in private schools):

That proposal, which has already passed the state senate, would give thousands of low- and middle-income parents in failing school districts private school options. The Tennessee Equal Opportunity Scholarship Act would provide vouchers of between $4,000 and $5,000 per child to families with an income up to roughly $42,000 a year and who live in one of the four largest school districts, including Memphis and Nashville.

In an April 27 letter repeating nearly every discredited voucher myth peddled by unions, the CEOs of the local chambers advise lawmakers to oppose the bill. The letter claims that private school funding “diverts resources away from public school improvement,” that “there is no empirical data demonstrating that vouchers improve student achievement,” and that private schools lack “accountability” and won’t be subject to “high academic standards.”

That last complaint is tragicomic given that Memphis schools typically rank among the nation’s five worst with fewer than half of black males graduating from high school. A 2010 progress report under the No Child Left Behind program found that 52% of Tennessee third graders flunked math and reading tests and 75% of eight graders failed math. How could private schools possibly be worse?

In fact, there is evidence from voucher programs in Washington, D.C. and Milwaukee that voucher programs do provide better educational opportunities. What is lacking in the otherwise excellent Wall Street Journal piece is an explanation of why the state’s business establishment made a deal that harms children (though not, of course, their children). It can’t be that they are parsimonious about giving government money to private institutions:

The Tennessee chambers aren’t nearly as opposed to public money going to private institutions when they receive the checks. A study by the Tennessee Center for Policy Research discovered that over the past several years the Chattanooga Chamber has received $450,000 in state and local funds. The Nashville Chamber has received nearly $3 million in taxpayer subsidies.

We doubt a single child of officials in these chambers of commerce attends a school in the poor parts of Memphis or other places where dreams die before high school. Yet these captains of industry are willing to deny that choice to others. Business executives who really want to make the U.S. more competitive ought to stop contributing to lobbies that want to preserve the dreadful status quo.

 I love Tennessee, and indeed I went to school in the great state. But this morning, I have to say: Hang down your head, Tennessee. Future generations are fixin’ to pay for this selfishness.