Tense ESA school voucher hearing could be repeated next week

Tennessee News

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — After words flew in a tense two-hour hearing Wednesday, state lawmakers hope for some answers next week about questions directed at Governor Bill Lee’s controversial Education Savings Account (ESA) or school voucher plan.

There was no shortage of frustration shown from some lawmakers trying to get answers about an expensive state contract to launch Lee’s voucher plan by this August for 5000 students in Memphis and Nashville.

House Republican Caucus Chair Jeremy Faison said he “was gonna talk to you like in East Tennessee” in addressing education department leaders who approved the vendor contract worth several million dollars more than what lawmakers had budgeted.

“That’s peeing on my leg and telling me its warm rain,” said Rep. Faison who minutes earlier told the education department he “regretted” voting for the ESA bill last spring. “You cannot do stuff like this.”

Another Republican lawmaker, West Tennessee Representative Andy Holt, defended the education department’s ESA vendor contract as “nothing outside the law.”

Without naming names, Rep. Holt called out his fellow party members like Rep. Faison who said the department “robbed” an education fund for teacher salaries to pay the vendor’s contract in the form of a grant.    

“I would really take exception to fellow members making the accusation,” said Rep. Holt.

The ESA voucher questions went to the two top Republican leaders in the Tennessee legislature Thursday as they appeared before the Winter gathering of the Tennessee Press Association.

A Memphis television commentator asked if the ESA voucher bill could be repealed with all the questions raised.

“At the end of the day, I have never seen us do something like that, especially the next year (after it passed),” said House Speaker Cameron Sexton. “If you are asking –I don’t see it being repealed.”

Speaker Sexton said he’d rather talk about improving early childhood literacy rates, while Lt. Governor Randy McNally said a question about the ESA vendor contract has been formally been posed to the Lee administration.

“We are asking the administration…where the authority is to do it like that,” Lt. Governor McNally told reporters.

He added the response is promised next week.

It will likely come at the same House committee where lawmakers said they had plenty more questions for the education department and its controversial vendor contract to start up the ESA voucher plan.

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