School Voucher Proposal Gets Second Chance

Jan 17, 2014

Governor Bill Haslam will try again to shepherd his proposal for a limited school voucher program through the Tennessee General Assembly this year.

The larger points of the proposal Haslam presented on Thursday are virtually identical to the bill he backed in 2013. A limited voucher program would give money to low-income students who attend failing public schools. The money would be applied to getting those students into other schools, typically private schools.

The details of the legislation are still being worked out. Haslam withdrew his 2013 proposal when he couldn't reach an agreement with Senate Republicans over the scope of the initiative. Haslam's plan called for 5,000 students in the program's first year, and only families whose annual income clocked in at or below $43,000 would qualify. Senate GOP leaders wanted to raise that eligibility cap to an annual income of $75,000 and would have set no upper limit to the number of students allowed in.

On Thursday, Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey told reporters his office is talking with the governor's office to reach a compromise. Ramsey said he could support a cap at 10,000 students in the program's first year.

The voucher debate is viewed differently on the other side of the political aisle. Traditionally, Democrats have opposed voucher programs because they say the money undercuts efforts to improve public schools.

“My major problem with vouchers is financial,” House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh told the Associated Press. “When you take away from already a very limited pool of funds, and just frankly give it to a private school, it certainly hurts the public schools.”