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.”

The bill is scheduled for a vote in Senate Finance on Tuesday. Right now, there are only four solid votes in favor of the bill:  Republican Sens. Jack Johnson of Franklin John Stevens of Huntingdon, Ferrell Haile of Gallatin, and Brian Kelsey of Germantown (notwithstanding a re-election campaign declaration that he was giving up his annual voucher push because “I listen to my community”).

Sen. Joey Hensley of Hohenwald was a Republican dissenter in the Education Committee
vote (along with Sen. Steve Dickerson of Nashville) when the bill cleared the Senate Education Committee.  Meanwhile, Finance Chairman Bo Watson of Chattanooga has voiced concerns about the financial implications of the ESA proposal, while the votes of GOP Caucus Chairman Ken Yager of Kingston and Richard Briggs (R-Knoxville) are uncertain.

Democrats Brenda Gilmore and Jeff Yarbro (both of Nashville) are opposed.

Gardenhire said he might feel differently about the bill if it didn’t affect his home area.

“I asked the governor, I said can we exclude Hamilton County and add another county in it? And I’m not going to speak for him, but I know what his answer was,” he told the paper.

Gardenhire said he wasn’t asked for input when the bill was being drafted.

“Nobody when they were putting this plan together ever came down to Hamilton County in the district that I represent and said, ‘Todd, we’re going to make a fundamental change in education in Tennessee, and it’s going to to affect the county you represent. How do you think we ought to do it?'” he said.

“Nobody asked any of the legislators at all that I know of for any input,” Gardenhire said. “They just decided just to come up with this plan.”

Read Sher’s full report here.

11 Responses to Never assume? Lee loses key Chattanooga Republican on voucher bill

  • Avatar
    Linda J Sammataro says:

    I’d be overjoyed if this awful voucher bill would be defeated. It’s bad news for everyone.

  • Avatar
    James White says:

    Oh the Republicans will beat him down.

  • Avatar
    Donna Locke says:

    Why don’t they all just declare they are in our legislature to represent foreign nationals and be done with it?

    • Avatar
      Em says:

      No, they are in the legislature to represent the people who live and work in the state. You know, a child is not less a child because his parents don’t have the proper papers.

      Do you think it’s really a good idea to exclude these children–who DO exist even if you don’t think they SHOULD exist–from getting an education? Is it really a good idea to have a bunch of kids running loose all over the place because no one will allow them to learn to read and write? Is it a good idea for illiterates to be in our state?


      It’s not a good idea to punish children for the actions of their parents. It’s not a good idea to throw children in prison because their parents committed a crime. We wouldn’t even entertain that notion for a second if we were talking about any other situation, but because these children’s parents are here illegally–and working and paying taxes like the rest of us–you want to punish these kids?

      The legislators are up in Nashville to do commonsense good laws for the people of the state. Very often they fail because of special interests’ influence. But that’s the job they are supposed to do. Letting all children in the state get an education is good for the state.

      • Avatar
        MarLE says:

        No we don’t throw children in jail b/c cause their parents committed a crime BUT we don’t let them keep the ill gotten goods either. In this case they shouldn’t even be in this country and they ARE getting an education on the taxpayer dime. They are just NOT getting the Escape voucher to go to another school. They ARE still getting a Free Public Education, which to hear teachers tell it is the Best Education E-V-E-R!

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          Lenny says:

          Seems like shaky legal ground to risk your pet voucher project on. Just because the law would require ID doesn’t mean a court won’t strike that down. It would be an interesting case since Tennessee is a 100% sales tax state. Therefore illegals are Tennessee taxpayers, too.

          • Avatar
            Donna Locke says:

            Yes, illegal alien students would be included in this scheme, no matter what the pushers say. That is how it would shake out legally.

      • Avatar
        Donna Locke says:

        We should make illegal immigration as unattractive and unprofitable as possible. This means getting rid of the magnets, the free stuff illegal aliens are getting here. It also means holding employers responsible for hiring illegal labor, and preventing that hiring in the firstvplace. We get more and more and more of what we reward. This is why our public school system has been destroyed.

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          Lenny says:

          We would be more effective focusing on the RINOs and Chamber of Commerce who want cheap labor illegal immigration. They can’t fill jobs now because citizens are doped up on pills and meth. If we enforce rules against hiring illegals and cut off their cheap labor, then they’ll have to vote for immigration reform that’s fair, safe, and efficient or go out of business.

          • Avatar
            MarLE says:

            Saw the Bernie Town Hall last evening where he cited his immigrant Father from Poland. His father came in 1921. At that time there was no WElfare program of any kind. The economy was largely agricultural and no one needed a high school diploma, let alone a college degree, to be hired.

            But Bernie wants us to be as welcoming to all immigrants, legal and illegal in a completely different Universe! If we want to go back to the “Bernie Daddy days” then let’s roll back welfare and government assistance to that time period as well. Let’s also have the Tax rates we did back then. No FICA taxes.

            I’d agree to that….no SS, no Medicare ( first showed up in the Johnson years) no Medicaid. No food stamps, no free school breakfast/ lunches, no subsidized housing, heating or Earned Income credit.

            Yes, Bernie let’s go back to the good ole days of immigration. Why does no interviewer remind him of the difference between today and Yesteryear?

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