Haslam's School Voucher Program Wins First Vote in Legislature



Gov. Bill Haslam’s school voucher bill advanced in the House today, emerging as-is from the education subcommittee. In a bit of a surprise, no one tried to amend the bill to expand the program. Haslam wants to limit it to low-income students enrolled in failing schools—most of which are in Memphis—and some Republicans want to broaden eligibility to include more children, preferably some of whose parents vote Republican. No doubt, that’s the GOP end game. We guess they’re willing to bide their time.

The sponsor—Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville—called on lawmakers to help "build some lifeboats for all these little children who are drowning." Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman also gave a little speech in favor of vouchers. He pointed out the state has added funding to failing schools and expects improvements in student achievement. But he added:

It’s cold comfort to a parent to say we’re putting resources into your school. Three or four years from now, we think this school will be a good school for your child. If you are a parent of a fourth-grader, your child only gets to go to fourth-grade one time. We have to make sure that we give these children opportunities.

We’re putting our money where our mouth is as well. We’re saying we as a state have schools that we’re managing that students can leave with these opportunity scholarships. It’s our belief that it’s incumbent on us to build schools that are strong enough to build schools that students won’t want to leave. We’re not afraid of the competition. We think we’re going to build really strong schools and parents will decide to keep their children there. But if they don’t, then shame on us for not delivering an education that’s high enough quality that parents want their children to stay.

Under the bill, no more than 5,000 vouchers are available in the first year, and that increases to a maximum of 20,000 in 2016. In Nashville, the amount of the voucher is $6,700, the combined state/local funding.


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