April 2, 2013

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris said Tuesday that lawmakers will either have to approve Gov. Bill Haslam’s approach to a school voucher program in Tennessee or face the measure being withdrawn for the year.

Norris, R-Collierville, who is sponsoring the bill for the Haslam administration, told reporters that he doesn’t see much room for negotiation over the measure seeking to supply a limited number of parents of children in the state’s worst-performing schools with public money to pay for a private education.

“I think there’s an increasing level of comfort with the measured approach preferred by the governor,” Norris said. “It’s pretty much all or nothing.”

A separate bill for a more expansive voucher program was withdrawn earlier this session, though supporters have said they want to amend the governor’s proposal to have it apply to a larger number of families.

Haslam’s bill is scheduled for Wednesday votes in the House Finance Committee and in the Senate Education Committee. The measure would limit the program to 5,000 students in failing schools in the academic year that begins in August and grow to 20,000 by 2016.

Before it was withdrawn, the rival measure would have increased the income limit for eligibility from about $$43,000 to $75,000 for a family of four, and would have set no limit on growth.

“We have felt real strongly that our bill is right,” Haslam told reporters after a speech to the state Chamber of Commerce. “In this case it’s not a matter of accepting amendments or tweaking it.”

“We’ve been real clear if you’d like a different bill that says something different, then please run your own,” he said. “What’s been proposed to amend to ours is a very different path … It’s a very different philosophy.”

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