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Former NBA star talks school choice at Capitol

Allan Houston, a former University of Tennessee and New York Knicks basketball player, speaks to legislators about school choice.
Allan Houston, a former University of Tennessee and New York Knicks basketball player, speaks to legislators about school choice.
G. Tatter

Former University of Tennessee and NBA basketball star Allan Houston spent Thursday on a different court of play to advocate for school choice options.

Houston met with legislators at the state Capitol in Nashville to advocate for bills that would expand school choice options in Tennessee through measures such vouchers, which some legislative leaders believe are poised to become law this year.

“Everyone agrees about the need for our kids and families to be developed,” Houston told freshman representatives during a caucus meeting. “The methods, we may not all agree on. But the one fundamental thing we do agree on is our kids deserve it, and need it.”

Voucher opponents did not let Houston’s star power eclipse their points. After he spoke, legislators heard remarks from Lee Harrell, general counsel of the Tennessee School Boards Association, on why he believes vouchers would be a mistake.

Citing concerns about equity and accountability, Harrell said vouchers inevitably would siphon off funding from public schools. He said voucher proponents’ school choice arguments can be misleading, since private schools can still turn away students, unlike most traditional public schools.

“The choice in these programs is primarily that of the private school,” Harrell said.

Houston, whose foundation has donated heavily to New York City public schools, was a guest at the Capitol of the advocacy group Tennessee Federation for Children, which is lobbying for passage of vouchers.

Houston, 43, played for the University of Tennessee in the early 1990s and was a first-round NBA draft pick in 1993. He played most of career with the New York Knicks, was an all-star in 2000 and 2001, and retired as a player in 2005. He is now assistant general manager with the Knicks.

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