Haslam to lawmakers wanting bigger voucher plan: Get your own bill

Monday, March 25, 2013 at 10:05pm

The governor said he sees no reason to budge on his limited plan to offer state-funded scholarships to low-income students from failing schools, despite a hunger among some in his party for a bigger program.

The situation is creating a showdown of sorts expected to heat up this week between the conservative wing and moderates of the Republican Party in the GOP-led legislature.

“It’s not like we’re a people who just say, ‘It’s our way or the highway, the legislature shouldn’t have input,’ ” Gov. Bill Haslam told reporters Monday after signing a proclamation to honor Vietnam War veterans. “But on this issue, we really have worked hard to say, ‘This is where we think the right place is.’ And again, we think if somebody thinks something different, they should run their own bill.”

Sen. Brian Kelsey, a Germantown Republican, is targeting the governor’s proposed plan in a Senate committee this week. Kelsey wants to amend the bill to an “opportunity scholarship” program to children of families with income levels on par to a family of four making up to $75,000. Those students would then be eligible to attend private school on the taxpayer’s tab.

His plan is backed by the more conservative members of the legislature, who argue a student’s quality of education should not be dictated by where they live. The Senate, viewed as the more conservative chamber in the legislature, approved a voucher program in 2011 that the House refused to go along with.

Haslam’s plan limits the school voucher program to students qualifying for free or reduced lunch at the state’s worst 5 percent of schools. He is joined by moderates in the legislature, generally in the House of Representatives, although others are opposed to any kind of voucher program.

The governor said he hasn’t decided whether he would withdraw his bill if lawmakers like Kelsey change his proposal, saying “we haven’t crossed that bridge yet.”

“Our request has always been to say, ‘Consider our bill. If somebody else wants to have another bill, let them do that. But consider our bill and vote it up or down on its merits alone,” he said.

The governor said he sees no reason for him to budge from his original voucher plan.

“Budge for what? So far, I haven’t seen anything that makes me think what we’re proposing isn’t the right answer for Tennessee,” he told reporters.

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, who is speaker of the Senate, wants to see a more expanded bill. Although he predicts the final result will end up as a compromise between the governor’s office and the legislature, he said the body may have to respect the governor’s insistence and stand down if they want any bill at all.

“I think in the end, if we want to get something passed, that might be the only option. But I think at the same time, you don’t want to begin with that when we have members on our side that feel strongly,” he told The City Paper.

“I cannot predict right now where we end up, but I hope in the end that we end up passing the bill. There’s a possibility that no bill passes, but I hope that’s not the reality,” he said.

8 Comments on this post:

By: pswindle on 3/25/13 at 10:57

Forget vouchers, they are a bad idea.

By: Rocket99 on 3/26/13 at 7:24

I don't want my taxes increasing just so a hand full of children can go to a private school which may or may not help them. Why not really invest in our own public schools and replicate the very successful private schools? Quit teaching to pass a bloody test. Teach to truly educate. Also, put discipline back in the schools.

By: dogmrb on 3/26/13 at 8:43

Don't blame teachers especially if you've never been one. Blame the federal and state legislators who pass laws governing what is taught and how proficiency is measured. Teaching, especially our children and grandchildren, is the hardest job in our society. It is the basis for rocket science and brain surgery! And, don't use my tax dollars in private schools!

By: d4deli on 3/26/13 at 9:42

Whatever the per child cost per school of zone, is all the funding vouchers should give anyone to send their child to private school. It won't go far, and if they really need the money, they probably can't afford the rest of the money.
The difficulty arises when you consider all the extra money needed to teach special needs. Private schools have the liberty to close their doors to all behavior and special needs students. They don't and won't accept them. Public school has to provide an education for the masses, no matter the behaviors or learning disabilities. The cost per child is much greater in public school as a result.
When those $$ are removed to help supplement the privileged who can take their children to private school, there are less $$ to help attempt to teach the neediest children in public schools.
Vouchers are a bad idea. They would help supplement the few at great cost to the many and neediest.

By: James Arthur on 3/27/13 at 6:18

I saw an expert from FL, I believe, testifying in the Senate about their experience in several states. He pointed out that allowing the "escape hatch" only for failing schools had some side effects.

One was that people (and kids) were thrown into chaos. The "failing" school designation changes from year-to-year (obviously). If your daughter transferred to a new school, but then her "failing" school got a better grade the next year, she'd have to go back, under that system.

His fix was simply to allow a certain number of students to move, by lottery, regardless of where they live. If a school doesn't fit the child, if another suits the child better and the parents want it, why not?

Overall it's a good, healthy thing though, to get schools competing for students by offering the highest quality, most attractive educational programs they possibly can.

By: ancienthighway on 3/27/13 at 6:41

That's the problem. Some "expert" came to Tennessee, with anecdotal "documentation" about the benefits of charter schools and vouchers. No long term studies. That's okay though because this is Tennessee and a long term study sounds too scientific, and Tennessee and science don't mix.

Halsam has said no new taxes. He can say that easily before both charters and vouchers will be funded by local taxes, which will have to be increased to support the wealthy with their cherry picked publicly funded private schools.

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