Tuesday, April 23, 2019

After Prolonged Debate, State House Passes Voucher Bill; Senate to Vote Thursday

Posted By on Tue, Apr 23, 2019 at 5:00 PM

Although one more vote, on the floor of the state Senate on Thursday, will be required for its ultimate passage, Governor Bill Lee’s measure to provide private-school vouchers (termed “education savings accounts” in the lingo of the bill) narrowly passed the state House of Representatives on Tuesday by a 50-48 vote.

That resolution came after an unusual and prolonged suspension of voting in the chamber, during which supporters of the bill carried out complex negotiations that resulted in a change of vote from No to Yes by Knoxville state Representative Jason Zachary (R-Knoxville). Zachary was said to have bargained for assurances that the bill would cease at some point to apply to Knoxville.

That change, should it actually be reflected in the final version of the bill, would be only one of several that were accomplished during weeks of consideration. Also on Thursday, the Senate Finance Committee okayed a slightly different version of the measure by a one-vote margin, keeping some aspect of suspense alive as to the bill’s ultimate fate.

As it is written now, the bill amounts to a pilot project, applying only to the counties of Shelby (Memphis) and Davidson (Nashville), a fact that drew outraged opposition from representatives of the two areas. Another disliked feature of the bill, involving compensatory payments to school districts for each student receiving voucher money from the state, was altered so as to progressively reduce the amounts of the compensatory payments year by year.

State Representative Jason Powell (D-Nashville) challenged the bill’s constitutionality and its redistribution of funding “away from our children,” while Representative Antonio Parkinson (D-Memphis), a veteran campaigner against any and all measures aimed at local sovereignty in education measures, speculated aloud about the lack of responsible curbs on potential fringe institutions that could receive the funds reallocated from traditional public schools.

Lee himself seemed confident that he would soon have a version of the bill on hand for his signature and issued a statement thanking the House for its action.

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