A school voucher program for Nashville and the rest of Tennessee’s largest cities died in the House Wednesday only a week after passing the Senate.
In the face of strong opposition from the Tennessee Education Association, the House Education Subcommittee voted to postpone voting this session as even some Republicans abandoned their party’s position on the bill.
The legislation would have made lower-income students eligible for what the GOP sponsors called “Equal Opportunity Scholarships” to attend the schools of their choice, including private religious schools. The bill applied to students who are eligible for free and reduced-price lunches in Nashville, Memphis, Shelby County, Chattanooga and Knoxville schools.
“The bill is designed to help children find the place where they can grow and bloom as best possible,” Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, told the subcommittee.
But Rep. Richard Montgomery, R-Sevierville, said he needs more time to think about whether to support vouchers.
“We’ve got a lot of reform going on right now and we’ve made a lot of changes,” he said, asking the subcommittee to study the idea this summer.
After the bill cleared the Senate last week, the TEA accused the majority party of trying to destroy public education by draining away tax money.
“The public ought to be outraged that 18 members of the state Senate voted for a blatant voucher bill which will drain much needed funds from public education to private and parochial schools,” said Jerry Winters, the TEA’s director of government relations.
But both Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell praised the bill.
“Children should not be forced to attend a failing school just because they live in a certain neighborhood,” Ramsey said. “Equal Opportunity Scholarships will allow all children to receive the quality education they deserve.”
The scholarships would have amounted to $5,400 in Nashville and Memphis, $4,600 in Chattanooga and $4,300 in Knoxville — half the money that state and local school systems spend on each child.