School voucher protesters greeted Gov. Bill Lee on his way into a Republican dinner in West Knoxville on Saturday night.
Lee was at Rothchild Conference Center. Outside, dozens of protestors — lots of them teachers — who oppose his voucher plan made their voices heard.
The plan would give “education savings accounts” to some low-to-moderate income families in areas with low-performing public schools.
Depending on income, those families could use up to $7,300 in state money to cover tuition at a private school.
Enrollment would be limited to 5,000 students in the first year and would increase by 2,500 students if the enrollment maximum is met in the following year. The proposal is estimated to cost $125 million over five years.
“Part of what you saw out there were people that disagree with me about how I feel about kids in the inner city that don’t have access to quality education,” Lee said during his dinner speech.
“Here’s what I think: Every child in Tennessee, regardless of their economic status and regardless of the zip code they live in, ought to have the same opportunity for a quality education that every other kid in Tennessee has,” Lee said.
“If it’s not a desk, a whiteboard or a computer, I’ve probably bought it for my classroom,” said Lauren Sorensen, a Knox County public school teacher.
“And I actually met with Gov. Lee a couple weeks ago when he came for his State of the State address,” she said. “I asked him to please not take any more money from my classroom.”
Another Knox County teacher, Kristy Hutson said, “Well the school systems are currently underfunded anyway, so to take more public dollars from those schools would be devastating.”
The governor’s proposal still has a lot of hurdles to clear in both the Legislature.