Republican Governor Bill Lee’s measure affecting tens of thousands of Tennessee public school students underwent more changes Wednesday, but parents and even some lawmakers are still trying to grasp what it means.
“I am excited that the rural community is now engaged in education savings accounts,” declared Speaker Glen Casada as Republican House members outlined an amendment early Wednesday afternoon to Lee’s education savings account (ESA) or voucher plan.
A major change is a grant program for failing schools in the state’s 91-counties outside the largest ones of Shelby, Davidson, Knox, and Hamilton.
“The $25-million that has been allocated or proposed –what will happen is that will stair step down and become funding for grants for failing schools that are not in the big four counties,” said Deputy Speaker Rep. Matthew Hill who has been a voucher critic in the past.
Representative Hill said skeptical rural Republican lawmakers made the most recent changes to Governor Bill Lee’s ESA plan.
Under the proposal, about $19-million in those grants would be available to local districts who have failing schools, but Rep. Hill said the money could be used for a variety of purposes such as teacher pay or building construction.
The actual voucher portion of the ESA bill also now applies only to the state four largest counties, but some Nashville school parents tracking the changes remain unmoved.
“We are very concerned and confounded because this amendment–the bill keeps being amended and it’s very confusing–we feel like we are not in the know about a bill that really impacts our children,” said school parent Becky Sharpe.
Under the latest voucher part of the ESA bill in year one during 2020-21, 5000 students in the state’s four largest counties would be eligible for up to $7300 years to use as they choose–but likely for private school tuition.
The numbers and cost would increase yearly.
The actual language of the ESA amendment and fiscal note outlining where the money will be spent can be accessed on our website.