A bill that would establish school vouchers in Tennessee has likely met its demise in the state’s House of Representatives, not long after the state’s senate voted to pass the bill.
The bill was pulled from the calendar of the House Finance, Ways, and Means committee earlier today.
School vouchers, which fund “scholarships” for low-income families to send their children to private schools, have been proposed several times over the last decade in Tennessee. This year’s bill was crafted by state governor Bill Haslam, a Republican.
As we reported earlier this year, the voucher program would have a major impact on Shelby County and Memphis schools and students. The majority of students eligible for the Tennessee Choice & Opportunity Scholarship Act program as it was outlined in this year’s bill – those who currently attend bottom five percent schools – live in Memphis.
While advocates of the bill say vouchers offer a choice for parents who might otherwise not be able to send their child to a private school, critics say the program would drain public schools of critical resources to the detriment of those students who do not use vouchers. The programs would also likely send public funds to religious schools.
The bill’s authors had estimated that approximately $15 million would be shifted away from public schools and to private schools accepting students using vouchers during the next fiscal year. That amount would grow each year, as the cap on the number of vouchers increases annually.
According to the Commercial Appeal, the House sponsor of the bill, Knoxville representative Bill Dunn, also a Republican, told the House Finance Committee that there were not enough votes for the bill.
School vouchers are one of a number of state-level efforts targeting students in schools ranked in the bottom five percent in the state of Tennessee. From the Associated Press:
“The governor has said all along that the proposal wasn’t a silver bullet but a piece of a larger strategy to offer more options for choice to families,” [the governor's spokeswoman Alexia] Poe said.
The Tennessean reported Monday on some of the components of this year’s voucher bill, including that it would not cover most of tuition.