Gov. Lee’s ESA compromise adopted by TN House, Senate

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Just when it appeared to be close to a done deal, drama returned to Governor Bill Lee’s ever-changing, ever questioned Education Savings Account (ESA) bill, but the State Senate put an end to the drama approving the landmark legislation by a 19-14 vote. 

By an earlier 51-46 vote, the House passed the compromise this morning that includes $7,300 yearly for up to 15,000 students in low performing schools in Davidson and Shelby Counties, but the same compromise was questioned by some Senate members for its cost. 

Governor Bill Lee’s original proposal put the cost at about $25 million for the initial year of the program that now begins in 2020.

Fiscal estimates released Wednesday afternoon by Senate Finance Committee Chair Bo Watson put the one year ESA figure at $28.7 million with “not full uptake” which translates into much less than the cap of 5000 students participating. 

He added that it would be $36.8 million of the 5,000-student cap was met, but Democrat Senator Jeff Yarbro wondered if the total cost would mushroom to at least $165 million in a five-year period. 

As the debate progressed, a number of Republican Senators raised other issues, but Senate Majority said its “time to try it” adding “it will be monitored.” 

The final compromise was a called a three-year “pilot program,” but without a “sunset provision” to potentially end the program.

A major part of the compromise is “education grants” worth millions of dollars in the original House proposal. Any county with a low performing “priority school” would be eligible. 

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