Tag Archives: vouchers

Five legislators hosted on seaside trip by voucher advocate

Five Republican state legislators were hosted on a three-day trip to the Alabama Gulf coast in 2014 by Mike Gill, a board director of Tennessee Federation for Children, a group that actively pushes school voucher legislation and has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in legislative campaigns through its political action committee, according to The Tennessean.

Reps. Andy Holt, Mike Carter, Billy Spivey and recently ousted lawmaker Jeremy Durham stayed at Gill’s condo and left one morning for a half-day deep sea fishing trip paid for by Gill. They didn’t catch many fish, but the captain showed them how to filet the ones they did. Rep. Jimmy Matlock also made the trip but went to the beach instead of fishing because he gets seasick.

The group traveled to Gill’s Gulf Shores condo and ate seafood at local restaurants on their own dime. They discussed policy, but some say there was a rule not to do so when Gill was around.

Carter, who bunked on a couch in the condo for the three-day trip, thought he might have to take a quiz after watching the movie. He described the weekend as “intense training in integrity” involving “an odd duck.”

(Note: The referenced movie was “A Man for All Seasons,” a 1966 film on the final years of Sir Thomas More, the 16th-century Lord Chancellor of England who clashed with King Henry VIII on religious principles and was beheaded. The men watched the movie one night, then discussed it at length.)
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State accepting IEA voucher applications; TEA fretting

Press release from state Department of Education
NASHVILLE— The Tennessee Department of Education announced today the launch of applications for its new Individualized Education Account (IEA) Program that provides the opportunity for parents of eligible students with disabilities to access public education funds to choose the education opportunities that best meet their child’s own unique needs.

“The Tennessee Department of Education strives to ensure that every Tennessee student has access to the tools they need to maximize learning,” Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said. “We believe this program is a unique opportunity to empower families to make decisions for their individual children as we continue our commitment to supporting all students as one of our five transformative priorities under under Tennessee Succeeds.”

The department is now accepting applications online for the program, which was sponsored by Senator Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, and Representative Debra Moody, R-Covington, and adopted by the General Assembly in 2015. Continue reading

Sunday column: Voucher vibes shake supermajority

The apparent failure of school voucher legislation in the House last week shows, again, the differences in political thinking of Republican supermajority members in the lower chamber with those in the upper chamber. And maybe that relates to the way House and Senate districts were drawn following the 2010 census by the supermajority asserting itself in 2012.

In the Senate, any voucher bill is a good bill and assured of passage by a solid GOP majority nowadays. Three or four years ago, the big Senate squabble was between the lords and ladies of Legislatorland’s supermajority who thought most every student should have an “opportunity scholarship” and those who thought the state ought to go with a limited “pilot project” version — the notion embraced by compromising Gov. Bill Haslam.

When the current compromising version came up in the Senate last year, it got a quick 23-8-1 rubber stamp with very little discussion. By then, the clear majority of Senate Republicans had realized that there was no clear majority of House Republicans who embrace vouchers generally.
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Vote-short voucher bill shelved in House

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A proposal to create a school voucher program stalled in the House on Thursday despite efforts to drum up support among wary rural lawmakers by limiting the areas of Tennessee where parents could receive state money to pay for private school tuition.

Republican Rep. Bill Dunn of Knoxville became emotional when he announced from the well of the House chamber that his multiyear effort to offer school vouchers to parents of children in failing schools did not have enough votes to clear the GOP-controlled chamber.

The chamber did not take up a series of proposed amendments, including one that would apply the measure only to Tennessee’s four largest counties, or even to just Shelby County in the southwestern corner of the state.

Opponents argue that the $7,000 voucher per eligible child would siphon funding from cash-strapped public schools.
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New voucher advocate move: Limit them to Shelby County

Short of the votes needed to pass a statewide school-voucher bill, voucher advocates filed an amendment Wednesday that would limit the “opportunity scholarships” to students from the Shelby County Schools system, reports the Commercial Appeal.

After seven years of failure, the bill is set for a crucial floor vote in the House of Representatives Thursday morning. It was postponed from Monday when supporters acknowledged they lacked the 50 votes required for passage. The bill in its statewide version won state Senate approval last year; if the House approves the Shelby-only amendment, it must return to the Senate for concurrence before it becomes law.

Vouchers allow parents to take taxpayer funding from public schools to pay tuition at private schools — about $7,000 per student in Shelby County. The bill would limit vouchers to students attending schools in the lowest five percent as defined by state academic achievement standards, and students must be from households with incomes low enough to qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches.

The statewide bill provides for 5,000 vouchers in the first year of operation, increasing to 20,000 in the fourth year of the program. The amendment would allow 5,000 vouchers in Shelby County alone and require the state comptroller’s office to evaluate the program and make annual reports to the state legislature, which could then expand the program at any time.

The amendment was filed by Rep. David Hawk (R-Greeneville) but the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Bill Dunn (R-Knoxville), said he will support it if it wins enough votes to pass a bill. Most Democrats oppose vouchers but the House’s huge 73-26 Republican supermajority would be enough to pass the bill. But enough Republicans, particularly from rural areas, oppose vouchers and have stymied passage.

A small army of voucher lobbyists — most funded by out-of-state “school choice” groups — worked the legislative office building in hopes that the Shelby-only amendment would sway enough votes.

“If that’s where we are and we can help some kids, we will go with it,” Dunn said Wednesday. “The thing about Shelby County is they have a very large population, most of the failing schools are in that county and also they have many different private schools that have a lot of experience working with inner city children. So it really is a good place to start it out.”

Asked if he believes the amendment would turn enough votes his way, Dunn said, “We’ll see. I don’t know.”

House voucher vote delayed until Thursday

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Proponents of a creating a limited school voucher program in Tennessee first feared that snow flurries would keep enough supporters from arriving for a House floor vote Monday.

But it ended up being an avalanche of proposed amendments — including a last-minute change proposed by the bill’s main sponsor — that caused Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, to put the vote off until later in the week.

Dunn told colleagues before the floor session that he now only wants the bill to apply to the state’s four largest counties: Shelby, Davidson, Knox and Hamilton. But he said he wants to take a more comprehensive approach to finding a version that can pass “instead of taking up 22 amendments.”

Even Dunn’s normally routine motion to delay the vote illustrated how closely divided the House is on the measure. It received just 51 votes — or two more than the minimum to be adopted.
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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.

Democrats’ number-crunching: Vouchers erase new K-12 funding

News release from House Democratic Caucus
NASHVILLE – If the General Assembly passes the current proposal on school vouchers, the cost to local school districts would nearly wipe out all new funding proposed by Gov. Haslam in his state of the state address.

“Our state is 47th in per pupil spending, and this state budget does nothing to help us move up the board against other states,” House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh said. “We only hear about vouchers: a system that hasn’t provided any stories of success. We have to fully fund our schools: not cut nearly a half billion dollars from their budgets.”

To truly understand what’s at stake for our schools, you have to look at how badly we underfund education, then take the governor’s proposal to start catching up, and subtract the cost of vouchers:

• Tennessee currently underfunds education by as much as $500 million, according to testimony from Tennessee Comptroller Justin Wilson in the House Finance Committee. Adjusted for inflation, we fund education less than we did in 2008.

• The governor proposes to begin catching up by proposing $261 million in new money for K-12, mostly for teacher pay and benefits.

• A voucher proposal that would grow to cover 20,000 students by 2018, potentially all over the state, would cost local school districts as much as $175 million in state and federal per pupil funding.

• If the voucher bill passes, the governor’s new education funding would result in only about $86 million in net new funding. That would barely cover the needs of local school districts across the state.

• If we pass the governor’s proposed budget, and the current voucher plan, Tennessee will still underfund education by $414 million.

“If we’re trying to adequately fund public education, we shouldn’t blow a $175 million hole in the budget for private school vouchers,” state Sen. Jeff Yarbro said.

The artfully named Tennessee Choice & Opportunity Scholarship Act has passed the Senate and will be up for a House vote Monday.

Columnists: Vouchers leave kids on a sinking ship

Columnists at opposite ends of the state — Frank Cagle in the Knoxville News Sentinel and David Waters in the Commercial Appeal of Memphis — both have written pieces calling for defeat of pending voucher legislation. Both compare public schools to a sinking ship and vouchers as a means to save a few of those aboard, but not the rest.

From Cagle:

Imagine a ship filled with children. It has a hole in the hull and is being kept afloat with pumps and bailing. Imagine rescuers arriving with a few lifeboats. They have two options. They can board the ship, man the pumps and repair the hole. Of they can sit in the lifeboats and allow the most physically fit of the youngsters to climb down to be rescued. Then they sail away and leave the most vulnerable of the kids to their fate.

Let’s call the ship a failing public school and the lifeboats, call them the vouchers.
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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.”