By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Legislation that would clear the way for cities to begin forming municipal school systems is needed to continue education reform in Tennessee, proponents of the measure said Monday.
The proposal was overwhelmingly approved 70-24 in the House before passing the Senate 24-5. The measure is headed to the governor for his consideration.
The legislation would lift a 1998 ban that forbids municipalities from starting their own school systems.
The measure would benefit six Memphis suburbs seeking to bypass a merger of the Shelby County and Memphis school districts and run their own schools.
The suburbs voted in August to create their own districts after the Legislature passed a narrowly crafted bill that allowed it.
Shelby County officials argued in court that the law violated the Tennessee Constitution because it applied to only one county. A federal judge agreed and struck it down.
Opponents of the measure questioned the need to make it statewide when the issue seemed to be isolated to Shelby County.
“It’s about Shelby County and its school situation,” House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, said Thursday. “I would ask us to think long a hard … about the long term effect of what we’re doing here.”
Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle of Memphis agreed.
“This bill has its genesis in Shelby County,” he said. “This is a local dispute over education and funding of education.”
However, Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris said other counties could benefit from the legislation.
“This is a bill of statewide application,” said the Collierville Republican. “It is entirely in keeping with the education reform movement that has been underway here for several years. The ban on … municipal systems creates an artificial barrier to innovation in education.”
House sponsor Curry Todd said the measure also is another tool for parents looking to give their children a better education.
“It gives parents a choice about educating their children and where they want their children to be educated,” the Collierville Republican said.