Voucher bill clears House Finance, 11-10

An effort to create a school voucher program scraped through the House Finance Committee on Tuesday on a 11-10 vote after a bitter debate, reports the Times-Free Press.

It’s the furthest a voucher bill has ever gotten in the GOP-run House, although the measure has repeatedly passed the Republican-controlled Senate, including last year when Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, passed the companion bill.

The House bill now goes to the Calendar and Rules Committee, which is considered less of a lift for proponents. If it clears that panel, as many expect, the bill, which has already passed the Senate, would go to the House floor for a final vote.

And then what?

“That’s going to be a war,” predicted one Republican, noting a number of GOP lawmakers from rural and suburban areas remain uncomfortable with aspects of the legislation.

The measure’s sponsor, Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, acknowledged there will be a fierce and lengthy floor battle.

“Pack your lunch,” Dunn wryly observed later when asked about the “war” assessment. “Pack your supper.”

Committee members spent more than 2 1/2 hours listening to debate over the bill, as well as quarreling among themselves.

Supporters say the Tennessee Choice and Opportunity Scholarship Act will throw poorer students at failing public schools a lifeline to a better future.

Opponents argue school voucher programs haven’t worked well in states that have adopted them. They also say vouchers offer false hope to many and, ultimately, may result in potentially crippling losses of funds for public education.

Dunn told colleagues many students “right now are on a path to failure, and these scholarships give them the opportunity for success.”