NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A committee of both state senators and representatives voted to recommend rules for the controversial Education Savings Account program Monday afternoon.
The Tennessee Board of Education presented the rules to lawmakers. Many had questions about how applicants get into the program, how the funds should be used and how it will be monitored. There was a concern the program might be overwhelmed with fraud, parents of students who don't use the $7,300 for their child's education.
A panel from the board answered those questions. Amity Schuyler, Deputy Commissioner for the TN Department of Education, said the program would be monitored by the state to prevent fraud.
Several lawmakers brought up inconsistencies with the start up costs for the ESA program. The state paid double what was authorized by the the legislature.
State Rep. Kent Calfee questioned why the board decided to seek an outside vendor to manage ESA accounts.
"We went to an outside vendor for TN ready and it's still not ready after $50 or $60 million," said Calfee. "So, I still don't understand why we had to go out. We have people at the department of education that could manage that and we've got a great comptroller who would audit it."
Schuyler responded the choice to contract our was the best decision for the program, students and families.
Calfee raised concerns about the contract should the ESA program be overturned this legislative session.
Democratic lawmakers also voiced their concerns during the hearing.
"How many things need to go wrong with this bill, we've had allegations of bribes given out on the day of the vote," said Nashville Representative Mike Stewart. "The bill was passed unconstitutionally after the day of the votes. Now, we're told that there wasn't money budgeted and so this was illegal under the constitution. It seems like the governor broke every rule in the book to get this terrible bill across the finish line."
Proponents of the plan believe that school vouchers will still be a benefit to those in the state who wish to send their kids to private schools.