Saturday, December 1, 2012

Educational Vouchers the Next Test Case in Tennessee?

Kelsey bill would seem to have green light in 2013 General Assembly, but similar legislation in Louisiana was struck down in court.

Posted By on Sat, Dec 1, 2012 at 11:22 AM

Sate Senator Brian Kelsey conferring with Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris during the 2012 legislative session
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  • Sate Senator Brian Kelsey conferring with Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris during the 2012 legislative session
The municipal-school issue, subject of this past week’s Mays ruling on the unconstitutionality of 2012 legislation enabling new districts in Shelby County may not be the only piece of Tennessee education-related legislation destined for the courtroom.

A state judge in Louisiana has just struck down a voucher system in that state whereby public funds were allocated for private institutions.

Critics of voucher programs maintain that they subvert public school education and divert needed funding from established school networks.

Tennessee is right up on the cutting edge of this issue, with a long-pending voucher bill from Germantown state Senator Brian Kelsey certain to get serious consideration in the forthcoming 2013 session of the General Assembly. A “task force” convened by Governor Bill Haslam has reportedly already conferred its approval of the voucher process as a component of Haslam’s educational reform agenda.

The major question remaining would seem to be how soon and just what would be in the bill. Here’s an item from this week’s Tennessee Journal on the shape of things to come from Ron Ramsey, the state’s lieutenant governor and speaker of the state Senate, and the most influential state official other than Haslam himself..

Vouchers. Ramsey did say that in appointing the Education Committee, he plans to make sure there are sufficient votes for an “opportunity scholarship,” or voucher, program.

Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown), who attended an education conference in Washington this week, is expected to sponsor a voucher bill. A task force on the issue submitted its report Thursday to Gov. Bill Haslam, who may offer legislation.

The task force agreed any voucher bill should target low-income students. It found consensus in some areas but in others simply laid out a range of options.

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