Gov. Bill Lee’s controversial school voucher proposal passed a key hurdle after the Tennessee House Education Committee approved it on Wednesday.
In broad strokes, Lee’s estimated $125 million measure, which Lee calls Educational Saving Accounts, would give up to 15,000 students in low-performing school districts across the state an estimated $7,300 of state money yearly to attend the school –usually private ones — of their choice.
There are still many unanswered questions about eligibility for the vouchers, exactly how much money the vouchers will provide and accountability on how the money can be spent.
These questions and others mirror the long-standing divide among state legislators on the issue.
“I do not believe this legislation is the answer, but I do believe it deserves a shot,“ said freshman Republican lawmaker Chris Hurt who spent 14-years as a teacher.
While voting for the bill, his sentiment reflected the struggle many lawmakers are going through as they faced last-minute pitches this week from Governor Bill Lee and Republican House Speaker Glen Casada.
The bill passed the 23-member committee 14-9 with freshman Republican Kirk Haston, a Perry County teacher, casting a “present but no vote.“
However, the bill still faces a long road ahead. Committee members that voted to pass the bill today may end up saying no when it goes to a full House vote.
“I hope they vote their conscience,“ said sponsor Bill Dunn who has fought for vouchers since being elected in 1994. “Governor Lee has put his heart and mind into this.“
While the voucher bill took a critical step Wednesday, it must pass several more committees before the measure goes to the House floor where some of the members who voted in favor today could end up changing their minds.