‘Virtual Schools’ Bill Passes Over Democrat Protests

The House and Senate both approved Saturday legislation that clears the way for private and non-profit corporations to open and operate “virtual schools” in Tennessee.
The House approved the bill (HB1030) after killing amendments pushed by Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, including one that would have prohibited corporations from running the schools in Tennessee if a convicted felon owns more than 5 percent interest in the company.
The amendment, Stewart said, was aimed at K-12, Inc., founded by Michael Miliken, who Stewart said was once known as “the junk bond king” and was convicted of six felony counts of fraud. He set up the company after completing his prison term.
Stewart said “highly-paid lobbyists” were pushing the bill. K-12 has three registered lobbyists for the current session.
The bill’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Harry Brooks of Knoxville, said K-12 ‘s stock is held by a limited liability company and thus Stewart’s amendment might not preclude the company from operating. Also, he said the amendment might create a “fiscal note” – or an expense for state government — which would jeopardize passage of the bill on the last day of session.
The bill passed the House 61-26. The vote was 20-10 in the Senate.
The measure also came under attack in the Senate, where Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, said it sets “a dangerous precedent” and could lead to public school money being siphoned off by private corporations.
But Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Jamie Woodson, R-Knoxville, said the bill gives local school boards full control and they can be trusted to prevent any misdeeds.
Berke said K-12 pays it’s top executive $2.5 million and other executives between $500,000 and $1.7 million per year.
Berke offered an amendment to declare private companies cannot operate “virtual schools,” leaving them to the schools themselves. The amendment was killed on a party line vote.

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