Education Savings Account bill likely to go to conference committee

Posted at 12:38 PM, Apr 29, 2019

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Today, the state House of Representatives will discuss the state Senate’s version of the Education Savings Account bill.

Last Thursday, the Senate passed a version of the bill that has several key differences compared to the House’s bill.

The governor's proposed legislation has been transformed into two different bills for the House and Senate. However, majority of lawmakers from the counties the bill is supposed to help still aren't on board.

The education savings accounts proposal is a historic win, that would grant $7,300 to low-income families in Davidson and Shelby Counties only under the Senate’s plan, where schools are under-performing.

The money would be spent in private school tuition.

The program is limited to 5,000 students in the first year. Home-schooled students can participate, and parents must be able to verify their income through pay stubs and tax returns, despite what the House version says.

But critics maintain that all it does is take away tax dollars from already under-funded public schools. Senator Jeff Yarbro (D-Nashville) argued that if the program is so effective, then more lawmakers would want their districts to be involved.
Some teachers are worried the bill would take away funding from the state's lowest performing public schools.

"You are voting on a statewide program, the only thing that makes this a pilot project is that we changed the name," said Yarbro. "If you believe it would genuinely change the trajectory of lives of the children you represent, you would be offended your county wasn't included but it's the exact opposite."

The Senate's version conflicts with what House members passed last week, which includes immigration status verification and applies to the state's top four most populated counties. That means the two chambers will form a joint panel known as a "conference committee" to find a solution.

Those opposed to the bill are also concerned families won't send their kids to public schools – essentially hurting the public-school system in the long run.

Governor Lee hasn't said which of the bills he preferred, but welcomes including more counties.