The bill to provide poor children more access to charter schools is back in play, multiple sources told The City Paper and NashvillePost.com
A rare unit vote by the House Democratic caucus stalled the bill in the education subcommittee and left many assuming it was dead for this session.
But since it stalled in committee on May 20, pressure has been put on House Democrats to reconsider their position. Mayor Karl Dean’s office has put a full-court press on Democratic leadership in an attempt to revive the bill.
And extra pressure has even come from President Barack Obama’s administration. Education Secretary Arne Duncan singled out Tennessee last week in an interview with the Associated Press. Duncan said states that don’t provide more school choice could be missing out on $100 million or more in federal stimulus funds.
Since that time, Duncan has had multiple conversations with House leadership including caucus chairman Rep. Mike Turner.
Another caucus meeting is scheduled late Wednesday and the charter school bill was one of the items to be discussed.
Caucus sources said last week they took issue with the fact that Rep. Beth Harwell (R-Nashville) was the lead sponsor for the legislation.
Turner said he was willing to discuss the legislation with interested parties, but offered a timeline of “next year.” Harwell held out hope the bill could be returned to committee this session. It would take the permission of House Speaker Kent Williams for the education committee to reconvene and consider the bill again.
Williams has said he would give permission for the committee to reconvene.
Dean said last week it was “urgent” that the bill push forward this session and pointed out that 70 percent of Metro Nashville’s public school students would have access to charter schools if it passed. If passed, the legislation would allow children on free or reduced lunch to attend charter schools.
The bill has faced strong opposition from the state teachers’ union, TEA, which has countered the Dean administration’s push with renewed lobbying efforts of its own, according to multiple sources.