Voucher lobby spent $260K to elect members of committee voting on vouchers

The committee of House lawmakers poised to vote on a school voucher program today saw more than $260,000 from school voucher advocates flow into their election races last year, reports Andrea Zelinski.

Five lawmakers sitting on House Education Administration and Planning Committee collectively received more than $52,000 in direct contributions and independent expenditures from two pro-voucher groups, according to a Post Politics review of state records.

But the bulk of the money, $152,000, went to keeping two people out of the legislature who would cause trouble for a voucher program. An additional $58,000 went to a favored candidate who lost by just more than 50 votes.

StudentsFirst and the Tennessee Federation for Children collectively spent approximately $894,000 in last year’s election, spreading money to lawmakers in both chambers but focusing largely in the House of Representatives where voucher proposals have tripped up in recent years.

Together, the groups spent $136,000 against incumbent Gloria Johnson, a Knoxville Democrat and teacher who pushed strongly against school vouchers during her first and only term. The two groups spent just shy of $39,000 in favor of her opponent, Eddie Smith, a Republican who went on to win the election by less than 200 votes.

Smith, an event and production manager, now sits on the Education Administration and Planning Committee that is scheduled to vote on a school voucher program today. He sits on the committee with fellow freshman Rep. Kevin Dunlap, a Rock Island Democrat and teacher who outran Republican Robert Dunham by 54 votes.

That race was for an open seat vacated by Rep. Charles Curtiss, a Democrat. StudentsFirst and the federation together spent $15,745 in opposition to Dunlap in last year’s election and spent more than $58,000 in favor of Dunham.

Other contributions included $2,000 to Chairman Harry Brooks, R-Knoxville; $2,000 to Rep. Debra Moody, D-Covington; $1,000 to Rep. John DeBerry, D-Memphis; and $8,243 in contributions and independent expenditures to benefit Rep. Dawn White, R-Murfreesboro.