School choice update: Champagne on ice?

Gov. Bill Lee speaks at a Philips event in Nashville on April 2, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee’s administration has been touting the “momentum” of his school choice agenda so far. His charter school authorizer bill has kept its forward momentum through the committee system, but his voucher-like Education Savings Account, or ESA, proposal was put on ice in the Senate until next week.

Proponents attribute the hiccup to time conflicts as committees do the heavy lifting needed to keep the legislature on track for a timely adjournment. But privately, some acknowledge there is going to have to be a combination of heavy whipping of recalcitrant lawmakers and tweaking of the bill to help it clear House committees and get a favorable floor vote.

(Editor’s note: The print version of The Tennessee Journal made the inaccurate assertion that the voucher bill had been put on pause in both chambers. While the Senate version did get moved to next week, the House version was advanced by the Government Operations Committee on Monday. We regret the error.)

But if those concessions go too far, the administration runs the risk of losing some ardent voucher advocates upset at the prospects of watered-down legislation. Having decided to pursue vouchers in his first session, Lee needs to avoid a high-profile defeat. So his team can be expected to pull out all the stops to ensure something (anything?) passes this year.

One additional challenge for Lee might emerge from a recognition among some of the more calculating lawmakers that they have increased bargaining power to extract the governor’s support for key projects or bills in exchange for their votes on the voucher bill.

7 Responses to School choice update: Champagne on ice?

  • Lenny says:

    Bill Lee’s handouts for illegal immigrants aimed at bailing out cash-strapped private institutions needs to fail.

    • David White says:

      I would not say it was for mainly illegal immigrants, but I agree with the rest of what you said. This is nothing but corporate welfare at the expense of our kids and their schools! Some of the smaller School Districts will suffer greatly because of this money grab. If the vouchers were to only be used for “non_profit” schools, it would not be as bad.

      • FuzzyBagels says:

        A 1982 Supreme Court decision, Plyler v. Doe determined that education funds for illegals (“undocumented immigrant children”) could not be denied. So, that decision has been out of the hands of the states for decades.

        However, there is reportedly an amendment to the proposed ESA legislation that would require an ID for the funds to follow a student out of their assigned school.

        There was mention of potential harm to small school districts, but the proposed legislation is restricted to school districts that have 3 or more failing schools, limiting the use of ESAs to Davidson, Hamilton, Knox, Jackson-Madison and Shelby counties.

        Meanwhile, more than 60% of Tennessee’s public school third graders aren’t reading at third grade level.

        As ESAs are debated, the debate should be based on the facts.

        • Lenny says:

          $7,300 is not going to be enough for a family to send their kids to Baylor or Montgomery Bell. $7,300 per student is enough to bailout and scale for-profit virtual home schools.

        • MarLE says:

          Are funds for education going to be denied in the ESA proposal? NO, they are not. Undocumented children who have zERO right to be here will Still get their Free education. Nothing required in the ’82 court decision is withheld.

          • James White says:

            Stop taking Federal money and the state can deny illegals

          • Lenny says:

            The Chamber of Commerce’s top priorities are cheap labor and bailing out failed businesses with taxpayer money. No wonder they support amnesty for illegal immigrants and vouchers. It’s fine if you agree with the Chamber on amnesty.

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