Voucher bill dropped, more possible

On April 9, 2013, in News 2013, by Mark Norris

Weeks: Voucher program likely in future

Tennessean.com
April 9, 2013

Gov. Bill Haslam withdrew his school vouchers proposal last week after he failed to get guarantees from fellow Republicans that they would not try to expand the program.

Haslam and Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris asked the Senate Education Committee not to hear Senate Bill 196 because committee members planned to pursue amendments to the bill.

Dickson County has no schools which perform low enough to qualify to be a voucher school. Still, Dickson County Schools Director Dr. Danny Weeks is not convinced something in the way of vouchers isn’t headed this way.

Haslam proposed offering as many as 5,000 vouchers to low-income students in poorly performing schools next fall, with that number increasing to 20,000 by 2016. The governor has described his plan as a conservative approach that would help students in the worst schools.

Proponents of voucher legislation say action is needed to increase options for children in failing schools. Opponents say vouchers will siphon resources from school systems that already struggle for funds into programs that perform no better than other schools.

“We do not (have any low-performing schools),” said Weeks. “The problem will be another bill that some other people are sending through” Weeks said. “We understand that there are other senators that are sending bills through that would open it up to everybody. That certainly would impact us directly.”

Nathan James, Research Analyst for the Senate Standing Committee on Education, said some bills have passed that could do just that.

“There are bills which have passed the Education Committee, which have a broad enough caption to hold an amendment to do that,” James said.

“There were several amendments (to Haslam’s voucher plan) to open it up broadly,” said James. “But the main plan that seemed to have sufficient traction that the governor thought his bill would not come out the way it was, was one that would have vouchers available to any student whose parents were at, or below, 175 percent of the “free and reduced lunch.”

That proposal would allow a family of four in Dickson County to earn $75,000 annually and qualify for a voucher school.

Weeks said he was glad to see the bill go, but feared next year when new legislation would be coming through the pipeline.

“I was glad to see that bill dropped but certainly we want to make sure in Dickson County that nothing worse comes along next year,” said Weeks.

— Chas Sisk, Gannett Tennessee, contributed to this article.

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