Tenn. Governor announces new push for statewide school voucher bill.


Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R) says he will back a school voucher bill again this year.

Haslam said in January that he will support a limited voucher program similar to one he championed in 2013. His proposal will once again be limited to students from low-income families who attend supposedly "failing" schools.

"I think it lets us walk into vouchers," he said, according to the Associated Press. "We want to have an approach that says, 'Let's see what the impact is both on students, and on districts and on overall education progress in Tennessee.'"

Haslam's previous plan would have capped the household income for voucher program participants at $43,000 for a family of four, which was actually too low for some Republicans. GOP state senators wanted a cap of $75,000 instead.

Haslam and his colleagues also disagreed on a participation limit for the program. He wanted a max of 5,000 students in the first year but by 2016 the maximum would have grown to 20,000. The Republican senators wanted no limit.

These disagreements ultimately torpedoed the legislation in 2013, the AP said.

Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey (R- Blountville) said he is still trying to convince Haslam to support a more expansive plan for this year.

"We're trying to meet the governor in the middle somewhere," he said.

Ramsey added that he would back a cap of 10,000 students in the voucher program's first year, but would want to program open to a wider range of children if low-income families don't account for all 10,000.

"So if there's 1,200 left, then it's kind of first come, first serve on that 1,200 regardless of income," Ramsey said. "I've talked to the governor about this, and that's where we need to end up."

Not all Tennessee lawmakers back Haslam's plan.

"My major problem with vouchers is financial," House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh (D-Ripley) said. "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." Tennessee's constitution states that no one can be forced to "support any...

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