Haslam's proposed voucher program abandoned

Wednesday, April 3, 2013 at 6:43pm

The governor and the second-ranked Senate Republican have agreed to give up on a push for a limited voucher program this year as a result of a faceoff between lawmakers wrestling for a more expansive program.

Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris said he would abandon the governor’s proposal to create a limited voucher program, also known as “opportunity scholarships” to send as many as 5,000 low-income students at the state’s worst schools to private ones courtesy of taxpayers.

“We were moving in the wrong direction, rather than in the right direction,” said Norris (R-Collierville), who said the bill was getting too political as his peers continued to pepper him with “hostile” amendments to broaden the governor’s bill. “This is not meant to be a political football.”

A band of Republicans in the upper chamber have pressed for a more expansive program, namely one that made the private school scholarships available to students across the state who come from families making as much as $75,000 a year.

Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) has led the charge for eight years to create a voucher program. Throughout the session, he said he would try to expand Haslam’s preferred bill despite the governor’s insistence the legislature leave his bill untouched and vote on any expanded voucher program separately. Norris refused to say whether Kelsey’s jockeying for a larger bill could be blamed for the plan’s defeat.

“If they won’t run their own bill, then they shouldn’t try to hijack the administration’s,” said Norris, who warned in March that lawmakers “who want it all very quickly should probably be careful what they ask for. They may end up with nothing. ”

Kelsey told reporters Wednesday there is “at least” one live bill he could amend to create his expanded voucher program.

“I am disappointed not to have the governor’s support right now on this particular bill this year, however, we can still pass a bill without his support,” Kelsey said.

Support for a voucher program is mixed in the legislature. The Senate is the most favorable to a voucher program after having approved legislation creating one in 2011. However, the House has less of an appetite for the idea, although generally supported the governor’s plan for a small-scale program, making it an uphill battle for Kelsey to pass any form of a voucher program.

“There is a God,” said House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh (D-Ripley) who has fought the voucher proposal all year. “This is such a serious issue and hadn’t been thought through enough. If we can get a year, certainly cooler heads will prevail and maybe they’ll back off of this issue.”

Lawmakers expect to adjourn for the year in little more than two weeks. Norris, who carries the governor’s legislation as the Senate majority leader, said he needs to turn his attention to other legislation like the state budget.

“The clock ran out,” he said. “Time’s up.”

10 Comments on this post:

By: pswindle on 4/3/13 at 6:02

First smart move by our Governor.

By: ohplease on 4/4/13 at 7:28


By: Rocket99 on 4/4/13 at 7:30


Now, the Charter Schools bill needs to die and Ms. Stacey Campfield needs to come out of the closet.

By: CoyoteCrawford on 4/4/13 at 2:05

Hummm. Take taxpayer money for schools and give it to private schools who don't need it. That doesn't sound like a fiscally conservative move to me. By the way, communities come together around their public schools...not private schools.

By: Balo on 4/4/13 at 4:05

First good move by he Governor on education. Next move, get rid of the Commissioner of Education. Third move, down size the educational department Now we are on a roll.

By: russellmroberts on 4/4/13 at 4:35

All parents should have freedom to choose their child's school instead of being forced to go to the government run school. Taxpayer money already pays for K-12 education, so letting the tax dollar follow the child to the school of their parent's choosing should not cost the taxpayers anymore than they are already paying, plus schools would learn to treat the student families more like a customer (who has other options). Sad to see this setback.

By: pswindle on 4/4/13 at 6:52

Each parent does have the freedom to choose. You can't take public money for private education. If you want your child to have a private education, you have to pay for it. The children in private school pay tuition becasue it is their choice.

By: MissTee on 4/4/13 at 7:46

If we are to give our tax money to private schools, their teachers, students, and administrators should have the same accountability as public schools. They need to take, and score well on the standardized tests. Teachers and administrators need to be accountable to the same observation and evaluation systems as public schools. Students should have to show the same level of "Adequate Yearly Progress" as public schools. Sounds fair to me. And watch the private schools freak out and run for the hills.

By: Radix on 4/5/13 at 6:47

"Hummm. Take taxpayer money for schools and give it to private schools who don't need it. That doesn't sound like a fiscally conservative move to me." -CoyoteCrawford

Surprised at how many commenters on here don't understand vouchers, let along fiscal conservatism, like CoyoteCrawford.

Vouchers allow poor kids to take their share of education funds with them to a different school. Wake up. School isn't free. If the money goes to another school it is spent on the kid. Your assertion that private schools don't need money is totally absurd. Private schools close all the time... see East Academy. The community also rallied around East Academy.

As with all liberals you claim to be smart, but fail to see the most basic of unintended consequences in your simple-minded greed. The end result without vouchers is that the smart, yet poor kid, is going to continue to be stuck in that failing school that is a money pit for the tax payers. Sounds like "progressive liberal" to me.

By: Radix on 4/5/13 at 9:57

And Miss Tee, Private schools already have to have accreditation and vastly outperform public schools. Once again, you are saying "give our tax money to private schools". That is not what happens. We give our tax money to *students* for *education*. Vouchers only gives them CHOICE of which school they would like to attend. Private schools make much more efficient use of that money.

In Washington DC, students get about $13,000 of taxpayer money that goes to the pathetic public schools they are trapped in. Coincidentally $13,000 is what the prestigious Sidwell Friends School costs where Obama sends his kids. Gee, which one would you chose? I thought liberals were supposed to be all smart n' stuff.