School voucher bill dead…for now

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Gov. Bill Lee expressed disappointment after announcing Monday his school voucher program died following the House and Senate not being able to reconcile differences over the bill.

“There is broad agreement that this needs to be done; I feel confident it will be, but we couldn’t put the final pieces together this year,” Lee said.

School boards across the state called for lawmakers to block Lee’s school voucher program, however, Lee said he would continue his efforts.

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“I believe in kids and I believe in their future and the opportunities that they should be given, the freedom that families should have to make choices and we’ll just continue to work. We’ve been working on it for five and a half, going on six years now, and we’ll keep on working on it,” he said.

The House and Senate could not agree on certain public school policy details, including extra money being allocated to public schools, and a call for less testing and more instruction time.

“We had all the right people aligned on it, but I think it was also a big problem that the Senate version and the House version were not in the same format,” explained Tori Venable, state director of Americans for Prosperity Tennessee.

Venable said Americans for Prosperity Tennessee has knocked on more than 85,000 doors since the beginning of the year, advocating for school choice. They plan to continue their efforts, hoping to see the measure again next session, or even perhaps in a special session.

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“There’s plenty of schools that are great schools that the kid is getting left behind because they are not having their needs met, they’re being bullied, there’s a number of different reasons why a parent would want something different for their child, and the parent is always going to be the best person to make that decision,” Venable said.

Yet others are taking a sigh of relief, not wanting to see any tax dollars diverted away from public schools.

“It’s just something that’s going to completely undermine and threaten to destroy public education across the State of Tennessee. An overwhelming majority of Tennesseans love and support their local public schools, and they spoke up for them and I think that was what made the difference in the end,” Tennessee House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rep. John Ray Clemmons (D-Nashville) said.

Read the latest from the TN State Capitol Newsroom

Clemmons said he thought Tennesseans needed to stay on guard for school voucher attempts moving forward.

Meanwhile, Lee said he hoped to start working on a new bill to reconcile differences over the summer.

According to Education Week, 11 states currently have school voucher programs.

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