Start date for governor’s school voucher program debated in legislative committee

Tennessee News

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – There was more critical debate Monday afternoon on implementing Governor Bill Lee’s ESA or voucher program earlier than expected, but in the end a legislative committee recommended that the programs start date move on to the full House and Senate for approval.

The committee heard testimony with dozens of school choice advocates in the audience who had earlier celebrated their efforts in successfully helping pass the bill last session.

“This is not anti-public school. This is not anti-teacher,” said Memphis Representative John DeBerry to the school choice advocates at a noon luncheon.

Rep. DeBerry is one of just three Democrats who has supported the voucher efforts.

This comes as private schools in Memphis and Nashville are getting ready for new students after state lawmakers passed an educational savings account (ESA)
or voucher plan last session.

The plan allows eligible Memphis and Nashville students about $7300 yearly for private school tuition.

“It’s not about taking things away from public schools or preferring one school over another,” said Brian Sweatt, who heads up Nashville’s Lighthouse Christian school. “It’s about empowering kids and parents who want that opportunity and making it possible.”

Monday afternoon with most of the school choice advocates there, a joint legislative committee addressed efforts to begin the ESA voucher program this coming fall in 2020.

Minority Democrats were critical with the program moving ahead a year early.

“We have another situation where the public is told one thing and then another thing occurs,” House Democrat Caucus Chair Mike Stewart told the committee. “I think this is a bad first step forward.”
 think this is a bad first step forward.

While Democrats did most of the talking during the nearly 90-minute hearing, their efforts fell short when the committee voted to recommend the date change for starting the ESA this coming fall.

The recommendation now goes to the full Tennessee House and Senate for approval.

Five-thousand students are eligible for the ESA or voucher program in its first year.

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