education

Voucher bill clears House floor, Senate committee by single vote each

It was a day for close votes for Gov. Bill Lee’s school voucher proposal. First, the measure received the bare minimum number of votes in a 6-5 decision by the Senate Finance Committee to send the bill to a full floor vote. Then, House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin) had to keep the voting board open for 40 minutes in order to persuade a lone holdout — Rep. Jason Zachary (R-Knoxville) — to change his vote from no to yes and get the bill the 50 votes it needed to pass.

Here’s your Senate Finance Committee vote in graphical form.

Senators voting yes were, from left, Brian Kelsey, John Stevens, Ferrell Haile, Todd Gardenhire, and Bo Watson. Voting no were Joey Hensley, Ken Yager, Brenda Gilmore, Jeff Yarbro, and Richard Briggs.

Here’s the House vote:

Representatives voting aye were: Baum, Boyd, Carter, Cepicky, Crawford, Curcio, Daniel, DeBerry, Doggett, Dunn, Eldridge, Faison, Farmer, Garrett, Hall, Helton, Hill M, Hill T, Holt, Howell, Hulsey, Hurt, Johnson C, Kumar, Lafferty, Lamberth, Leatherwood, Littleton, Lynn, Marsh, Moon, Ogles, Powers, Ragan, Reedy, Rudd, Rudder, Sanderson, Sexton J, Sherrell, Smith, Sparks, Terry, Tillis, Todd, Van Huss, White, Williams, Zachary, Mr. Speaker Casada — 50.

Representatives voting no were: Beck, Bricken, Byrd, Calfee, Camper, Carr, Chism, Clemmons, Cochran, Coley, Cooper, Dixie, Freeman, Gant, Griffey, Hakeem, Halford, Hardaway, Haston, Hawk, Hazlewood, Hicks, Hodges, Holsclaw, Jernigan, Johnson G, Keisling, Lamar, Love, Miller, Mitchell, Parkinson, Potts, Powell, Ramsey, Russell, Sexton C, Shaw, Staples, Stewart, Thompson, Towns, Travis, Vaughan, Weaver, Whitson, Windle, Wright — 48.

Voucher bill to be dialed back to apply to just Shelby and Davidson

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

After many twists and turns, Gov. Bill Lee’s expanded school voucher bill is headed for a floor vote in the House this week. And in the Senate, the bill is being dialed back to apply only to the counties encompassing Nashville and Memphis.

The Education Saving Account proposal started out as applying to any district in which three or more schools fell in the bottom 10%. That would have meant Shelby, Davidson, Knox, Hamilton, and Madison Counties. Several rural lawmakers were worried that the next listing of priority schools could plunge their home districts into the bottom 10% and thus open the floodgates of unwanted vouchers in their home areas, too.

Lee promised a “hold harmless” provision for districts where the ESA program would be made available by creating a fund outside the Basic Education Program formula to reimburse them for the state money that goes away when students leave to take ESAs. That provision was largely abandoned in the House to instead have much of that money flow toward rural districts with priority schools. The Senate appears less enamored by that approach.

The ESA’s themselves have created controversy by allowing parents to spend the $7,300 per year on educational items beyond tuition, including electronic equipment, uniforms, and college savings. Critics worry that that will open the program up to abuse.

Homeschooling was stripped out of the House bill, but remains in the Senate version. Both chambers’ bills would create call for a citizenship test despite a U.S. Supreme Court ruling requiring states to provide K-12 education to all students regardless of their immigration status.

The bill is scheduled for a House floor vote on Tuesday and for the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday.

House changes to voucher bill aimed at capturing rural vote

Rep. Matthew Hill (R-Jonesborough) speaks to reporters in the House chamber in Nashville on April 17, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

House leaders say amendments to Gov. Bill Lee’s school voucher proposal will bring previously wary rural lawmakers on board by directing grant money to some of their struggling schools.

Rep. Matthew Hill (R-Jonesborough), a longtime voucher opponent, said the updates to the bill have caused him to change his position on the Education Savings Account, or ESA, measure. House leadership hopes that changes will give the bill a significant cushion of votes to get it through its final committee hurdle and on the House floor.

Senate supporters moving a vastly different version are still trying to muster the votes to get the bill out of the Finance Committee.

Never assume? Lee loses key Chattanooga Republican on voucher bill

Legislative leaders kick off the joint convention to inaugurate Gov. Bill Lee in Nashville on Jan. 19, 2019. From left at podium are House Majority Leader William Lamberth, Senate Speaker Randy McNally, Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson, and House Speaker Glen Casada. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Republican Gov. Bill Lee’s administration needs six votes to get its school voucher bill out of the Senate Finance Committee. Until recently, outspoken Sen. Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga) was believed to be among those expected to vote to advance the measure. Not so, reports Andy Sher of the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

“I’d carried every voucher bill for the past six years,” Gardenhire told the paper. “But this was one I could not go along with.”

(Full disclosure: The print edition of The Tennessee Journal was among those buying into the assumption that Gardenhire would be among the bill’s supporters.)

Gardenhire has long fought to make in-state tuition rates available to children brought to the country illegally. A provision of the voucher bill aimed to screen the immigration status of K-12 students is a major reason for Gardenhire’s opposition.

“As you know, I’ve been a big proponent of making sure they get an education they’re supposed to get,” said Gardenhire. “And [Lee] and I have a fundamental disagreement on that.”

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Four finalists named for UT-Knoxville chancellor

Four finalists have been named to become the next chancellor at the University of Tennessee’s flagship campus in Knoxville. They will visit the school and participate in public forums between April 16 and April 18.

Here are the finalists and times they will be on campus:

  • Donde Plowman, executive vice chancellor and chief academic officer at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. April 16, from 2:30-3:30 p.m at the Student Union Auditorium.
  • Brian Noland, president of East Tennessee State University. Wednesday, April 17, from 2:30-3:30 p.m. at the Student Union Auditorium.
  • William Tate, dean of the graduate school and vice provost for graduate education at Washington University in St. Louis. Thursday, April 18 from 9:45-10:45 a.m. at the Student Union Auditorium.
  • Bill Hardgrave, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Auburn University
    Thursday, April 18 from 3-4 p.m. in Room 101 of Strong Hall.

The forums will be live-streamed.

 

Lee to host Education Secretary DeVos at Nashville roundtable

Gov. Bill Lee delivers his first State of the State address in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is coming to Nashville today to join an education forum with Gov. Bill Lee

The Tennessean reports DeVos will attend a roundtable with educators, families, and local officials at Lead Cameron, a charter school. The governor’s office says the visit will highlight school choice benefits as Lee promotes charter schools and school vouchers through so-called education savings accounts.

Lee’s school voucher proposal cleared the House Education Committee last week.

Lee’s voucher bill: How they voted

Back by popular demand, the TNJ presents the news in collage form.  Here’s how the House Education Committee voted on Gov. Bill Lee’s school voucher proposal:

Representatives voting aye were: Baum, Cepicky, DeBerry, Dunn, Hurt, Leatherwood, Moody, Ragan, Rudder, Sexton J, Weaver, White, Williams, Mr. Speaker Casada. — 14

Representatives voting no were: Byrd, Cochran, Coley, Dixie, Hodges, Love, Parkinson, Vaughan, Windle — 9.

Representatives present and not voting were: Haston — 1.

Voucher bill clears House Education Committee on 14-9 vote

House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin) attends a House Education Committee meeting in Nashville on March 27, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee’s proposal to create a school voucher program in Tennessee has cleared the House Education Committee on a 14-9 vote.

The vote came after lawmakers added language aimed at excluding non-citizens from being eligible for the education savings accounts, a move that would likely draw a court challenge given a U.S. Supreme Court ruling requiring all children be eligible for K-12 education regardless of their immigration status.

Another major change was to largely remove homeschooling from the program.

The bill now moves on the Government Operations Committee and would also have to clear the Finance Committee before reaching the House floor.

Anti-immigration group attacks Lee’s voucher proposal

Gov. Bill Lee speaks at an economic development announcement in Nashville on March 20, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

An anti-immigration group says Republican Gov. Bill Lee’s proposed voucher program would be available to students who aren’t authorized to be in the country.

The Federation for American Immigration Reform, which advocates for curbing both legal and illegal immigration into the United States, cites the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Plyler v. Doe of 1982, which established that states must offer public education to all children, regardless of their immigration status.

According to the group:

Despite his promise to dry up incentives attracting illegal aliens to the United States, Governor Lee’s Education Savings Plan will inevitably provide school vouchers for illegal aliens. Vouchers use taxpayer funds and the Plyler holding prohibits school systems from determining which students are illegally in the U.S. Therefore, taxpayer monies can and will be provided for vouchers for illegal aliens.

Lee laments ‘a lot of misunderstanding’ about voucher proposal

Gov. Bill Lee is concerned that there’s “a lot of misunderstanding” about his proposal to create voucher-like education savings accounts in Tennessee. The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports the Republican govenror said a more comprehensive look at the proposal is warranted.

“I encourage you to look deeper,” Lee said.

But a lot of the confusion about the proposal comes from members of Lee’s own party. For example, freshman Rep. Robin Smith (R-Hixson) took to twitter to declare a news account a “pure lie” for stating the education savings account, or ESA, program would also apply to students who don’t currently attend failing schools. It would.

As proposed, the ESA program would apply to school districts with at least three schools in the bottom 10%, though there’d be no requirement to actually attend a failing school to qualify.

Fellow freshman Rep. Scott Cepicky (R-Columbia), a member of the House Education Committee scheduled to vote on the bill this week, said in a Facebook post that “because of the risk of fraud, as seen in other states with Educational Savings Accounts, homeschooling is not allowed in this bill.”

That’s in contrast to what Lee said last week when reporters asked him whether home-schooling would qualify for the ESAs.

If a family is in the district that qualifies, and they are currently in a public school, then they would qualify for an ESA,” Lee said.

Cepicky said in his Facebook post that lawmakers are trying to “tighten and limit this bill as much as possible,” so perhaps there’s potential changes on the horizon.