vouchers

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?

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.

Here’s a look at income limits for Lee’s school voucher proposal

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

Gov. Bill Lee’s proposal to provide vouchers to cover private school tuition through education savings accounts, or ESAs, would limit eligibility to families earning double the maximum family income to qualify for free and reduced-price lunches. That school lunch program is pegged to 185% of federal poverty guidelines.

Eligibility for the ESA program would be limited to families living within counties with at least three schools in the bottom 10% — but actual attendance in a failing school would not be required to qualify.

A household is defined as the total number of parents and children in the family. Here’s a look at what those limits would be under the proposal headed for its first House subcommittee hearing this week:

Household size Federal poverty guidelines Reduced Price Meals—185% Tennessee ESA proposal
2  $     16,460  $     30,451  $     60,902
3  $     20,780  $     38,443  $     76,886
4  $     25,100  $     46,435  $     92,870
5  $     29,420  $     54,427  $   108,854
6  $     33,740  $     62,419  $   124,838
7  $     38,060  $     70,411  $   140,822
8  $     42,380  $     78,403  $   156,806

School voucher bill DOA for 2018 legislative session?

State Sen. Brian Kelsey, a leading crusader for school voucher legislation that has failed in past years, says he won’t push the issue in the 2018 session, reports Clakbeat Tennessee.

“I listen to my community. Right now, there’s not enough parental support,” the Germantown Republican lawmaker told Chalkbeat after sharing the news with Shelby County’s legislative delegation.

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Lee calls for more school choice, says ‘receptions that entertain legislators’ should be stopped

Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Lee is calling for more school choice in Tennessee and an end to lobbyist-sponsored receptions for state legislators, reports the Associated Press.

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