homeschooling

Lee meets with freshman Republicans to make case for vouchers

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

Republican Gov. Bill Lee met with freshman Republicans in the House on Tuesday morning to make the case for his proposal to create a voucher-like education savings account program in Tennessee. Word is he got a positive response from the group.

The meeting comes as the Lee administration looks to dial back the ESA legislation by removing homeschooling from the measure. The bill is scheduled for a key House Education Committee vote on Wednesday.

Under the proposal, parents would be given $7,300 debit cards to spend on education-related expenses. That’s raised concerns about accountability, especially given the example of Arizona, where where an audit last year found parents had spent ESA money on non-authorized purchases ranging from movies to beauty supplies.

Gov. Lee talks education savings accounts before first bill hearing

Gov. Bill Lee speaks to reporters on March 19, 2019, about his proposal to introduce an education savings account program in Tennessee. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Republican Gov. Bill Lee spoke to reporters at the Cordell Hull building just minutes before his bill seeking to introduce education savings accounts, or ESAs, in Tennessee. (UPDATE: The bill cleared the subcommittee on a voice vote.) Here’s a transcript of what Lee had to say:

Lee: Homeschooling parents are very encouraged by the ESA bill. As more folks understand my commitment to strengthening public schools and providing choice at the same time, I think it’s something that’s really going to help Tennessee. I’m really excited about it.

Q: Which homeschoolers will be eligible?

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

Q: Any concerns about possibility of fraud?

Lee: There’s a strong accountability component to this in that money can only be used for approved purchases and approved vendors, so that we can be certain that the money that goes with the child will go for educational expenses only.

Q: The bill doesn’t require attendance in failing school. One could attend a fairly good public school and still qualify. What’s the rationale?

Lee: The goal is for children who are in a district that have failing schools. So, it’s targeted at kids in failing schools. Most kids that are not in failing schools will stay in their public schools. Data has shown that. Our public schools across Tennessee are high quality public schools for the most part. That’s why we’re investing so heavily in them. That’s why I believe in public schools. And I think the children that are in failing schools should have an opportunity to have access. And this is what that is targeted at.

Q: Embattled Rep. David Byrd could be key to the fate of this bill. Will pressure be brought to bear to influence his vote?

Lee: I am so trusting that representatives and legislators will vote on what they think is best for Tennesseans. That’s what I’m asking them to do, is to consider these children that I’m hopeful will have a choice as a result of this besides the choice of a failing school. And I trust that’s going to happen.