Haslam denies arm-twisting on voucher bill

Gov. Bill Haslam dismisses talk by some lawmakers that he’s doing a little arm-twisting to get some reluctant fellow Republicans to vote yes on the voucher bill scheduled for a House floor vote late today, reports the Times-Free Press.

“No, I really haven’t,” Haslam told Times Free Press editors and reporters last week, though he says he’s freely given his opinion to anyone who asks.

“We obviously are supporting the bill,” he said. “I haven’t personally been pulling anybody in the office lobbying for it. I do think it’s the right thing to do.”

The governor added, “As you know, it kind of mirrors the bill we proposed two years ago for folks with low-income kids in lower-performing schools.”

While Republicans have a supermajority of 73 in the 99-member House, both sides say the vote tally is extremely close. Some lawmakers and lobbyists said last week Haslam was seeking to persuade several Republicans who were opposed. The bill passed the Republican-controlled Senate last year.

Asked about predictions of a “war” on the House floor, bill sponsor Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, quipped, “Pack your supper.”

The measure would allow low-income families with children are in failing public schools to use taxpayer dollars to attend private schools, including religious schools. Vouchers are projected to be worth nearly $7,000 annually per student.

Of Tennessee’s 141 school districts, five have schools on the state’s “priority” list of failing schools. Hamilton County has five schools on the priority list.