TN School Voucher Program Clears Major Hurdle

Posted at 9:19 PM, Jan 20, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-20 22:52:37-05

The bill supporting a school voucher program passed a key Tennessee House panel.

The legislation passed a subcommittee Wednesday where supporters took advantage of a lawmaker who was in the hospital and missed the vote.

New leadership also may have paved the way as the bill advanced in the House.The big vote came in a House Finance subcommittee where school voucher legislation has stalled in the past. There were passionate arguments for and against.

Keith Williams of Memphis based Black Alliance for Educational Options said, "You know I work with clergy, and we have petitions with you know 60-thousand signatures from people in the city of Memphis saying this is what we want for our children.  We need options."

The legislation would allow parents of children in under performing public schools use state money to attend a private school.

Thomas Weber said his children attend an elementary school in Nashville. Weber said, "My kids and their school do not need vouchers, they need funding.  Right now they're in 23 portables."

Many school boards opposed the plan including Metro board members who said vouchers don't improve education.

Board Member Amy Frogge said, "Milwaukee is a case in point.  Milwaukee's had vouchers for nearly a quarter of a century and the district schools out perform the voucher schools on every possible measure."

Republicans who enjoy super majorities in both houses passed a vouchers bill in the Senate last year and Governor Bill Haslam said he'd sign it, but the bill never got to the House floor.

It stalled in this sub-committee. Lawmakers went home and over the summer key opponents, including the chair of the committee left. The new chair supported the bill.

The vote was scheduled for today, which was the same day another Republican opponent was supposed to have surgery.

House Minority Leader and Democrat Representative Craig Fitzhugh said, " Apparently, because of a member's unfortunate episode in the hospital it appears there are enough votes to move it out of this committee, so I would certainly object to moving forward."

The bill moved forward, and was sent to the full committee and the House floor where it was predicted to have an easier time.

Tennessee Democrats called Wednesday's passage of the vouchers plan a blow to public education in Tennessee.

The Beacon Center called it a big step in the right direction for school choice that will help many Tennessee families.