vouchers

Who was at the closed-door DeVos meeting?

While reporters headed out to set up for a photo-op and gaggle at a Nashville charter school, Gov. Bill Lee and U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos hosted a closed-door roundtable in a conference room in the state Capitol. The specifics of what was discussed were not divulged, but attendees helpfully took photos to give hints about who was there.

Besides the usual suspects of Senate and House leadership, the Beacon Center appears to have been heavily represented with Vice Chairman Joe Scarlett (the retired head of Tractor Supply Co.), board member Fred Decosimo (Lee’s campaign treasurer), and President Justin Owen. Others included Lee Barfield (a former lobbyist and longtime voucher advocate), Victor Evans (of TennesseeCAN), Hugh Morrow (president of Ruby Falls), Bradley Jackson (head of the state Camber), and Mark Gill (president of Rodgers Capital Group). Not pictured is Scarlett’s daughter, Tara.

Seemingly not in attendance? State Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn. (We hear she was out of town on TNReady business)

Recognize anyone else?

Continue reading

Here are the revised income limits for Lee’s school voucher plan

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

Lawmakers last week advanced a revised version of Gov. Bill Lee’s proposal to create education savings accounts, or ESAs, in five Tennessee counties. Previously, the income limit would have been set at double the upper threshold to receive reduced-priced school lunches, which is 185% of federal poverty guidelines. The revised bill sets that amount at double the free lunch limit, which is 130% of poverty.

The ESAs would be available to parents of children currently enrolled in public schools in Shelby, Davidson, Knox, Hamilton, and Madison counties earning up to 2.6 times the poverty level (down from the 3.7 times of the original bill).

Here’s what that comes out to:

Household Original proposal Revised proposal
2 60,902 42,796
3 76,886 54,028
4 92,870 65,260
5 108,854 76,492
6 124,838 87,724
7 140,822 98,956
8 156,806 110,188

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.

Byrd removed from subcommittee chairmanship following anti-voucher vote

Embattled Rep. David Byrd (R-Waynesboro) attends a House Education Committee meeting in Nashville on March 28, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Embattled state Rep. David Byrd (R-Waynesboro) has been removed as chairman of House education subcommittee a day after voting against Gov. Bill Lee’s school voucher proposal.

House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin) announced the move Thursday, The Tennessean reports.

“Following discussions with members of the House and after careful consideration, I have formally asked Representative Byrd to step down from his position as chairman of the House Education Administration Subcommittee,” Casada said a statement.

Byrd’s chairmanship has been the subject of regular protests at the legislative office complex over allegations of sexual misconduct with teenage basketball players when he was their high school coach in the 1980s. Byrd was overwhelmingly re-elected in November despite revelations that he apologized to one of the women in a recorded phone call.

“Representative Byrd agrees that this is the best path forward in ensuring the House of Representatives can focus on the issues that truly matter to all Tennesseans. This decision is based on input from members and to continue the orderly operations of the House,”  Casada said in the statement.

Byrd has long been a target of school choice proponents for his steadfast opposition to voucher legislation. This year’s voucher bill cleared the House Education Committee on Wednesday on a 14-9 vote. Byrd was among four Republicans who voted against the measure.

Casada supported Byrd during his re-election campaign, and had defended appointing him to his subcommittee chairmanship until Thursday.

UPDATE: Casada’s chief of staff, Cade Cothren, told reporters it would be an “absolute lie” to suggest Byrd’s removal as chairman was linked to his voucher vote.

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.

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.

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.

After thoughts of pumping brakes, full steam a head on voucher bill

Newly-elected House Speaker Glen Casada gestures toward his predecessor, Beth Harwell, in the House chamber on Jan. 8, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

After Gov. Bill Lee’s proposal to create a statewide charter authorizer nearly bogged down in the House Education Committee last week, there was talk that the next big piece of legislation aimed at creating voucher-like education savings accounts might need another week to ripen before heading through the same panel.

Looks like that delay is now off the table.

The Lee administration is pressing to present the bill to the House Education Committee on Wednesday.

The charter authorizer bill advanced out of that committee on a 13-9 vote, but only after House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin) came to the panel to personally intervene. Casada was able to get several freshman Republican who voiced concerns about the measure to get on board.

The bill also got the support of embattled Rep. David Byrd (R-Waynesboro), whom school choice advocates have tried for years to to defeat because of his support for traditional public schools.

Maybe Casada will be at the meeting from the start on Wednesday?