High drama in the Tennessee house today as Governor Bill lee’s much-changed ESA or “school voucher” bill barely passed after some extremely rare procedural moves.
While passing the state House is a major victory for supporters and the governor, the battle over what many call “school choice” needs a lot of compromises before the same version might pass both the House and the Senate.
Almost two hours of debate over the ever-changing educational savings account bill ended for a while with a tied, 49-49, vote on House floor.
It looked like it would not pass Tuesday, but in an extremely rare move—one not seen since the income tax votes of the early 2000s—the tally board for House members was left open to change their votes.
Assistant House Republican Leader Ron Gant of West Tennessee and Knoxville Republican Rep. Jason Zachary, who both originally voted “no,” were the legislators that supporters tried to sway.
When Rep. Zachary flipped, the measure was announced passed with a 50-48 vote. However, the lawmaker said he only agreed to the bill after he was promised Knox County would be removed from counties where students would be eligible for the annual $7300 vouchers.
Among those working hard to get the votes was Gov. Lee, who members said called them personally when they were tied 49-49 during the vote for his bill.
Up to 15,000 students in Davidson, Shelby and Hamilton County—the counties that make up the metropolitan areas of Nashville, Memphis and Chattanooga—would be eligible for the ESA vouchers under the latest plan from the House if Knox County is removed.
Under the bill, the rest of the state’s 91 counties are not eligible for ESAs, but can qualify for different grants, worth millions of dollars, to help improve teacher pay and build new schools.
Over in the state Senate Tuesday, its version of the bill, which is different from the one that passed the House today, passed a key committee.
The major difference with the current Senate version is that only students in Davidson and Shelby County, excluding both Hamilton and Knox County, would be eligible for the vouchers.
If the bill also passes the full Senate, the differences would have to be ironed out in what is called a “conference committee” between the House and Senate.
The full House vote is as follows (local elected officials in bold):
AYES (50) — Baum, Boyd, Carter, Cepicky, Crawford, Curcio, Daniel, DeBerry, Doggett, Dunn, Eldridge, Faison, Farmer, Garrett, Hall, Helton, M. Hill, T. Hill, Holt, Howell, Hulsey, Hurt, C. Johnson, Kumar, Lafferty, Lamberth, Leatherwood, Littleton, Lynn, Marsh, Moon, Ogles, Powers, Ragan, Reedy, Rudd, Rudder, Sanderson, J. Sexton, Sherrell, Smith, Sparks, Terry, Tillis, Todd, Van Huss, White, Williams, Zachary, Casada
NOES (48) — Beck, Bricken, Byrd, Calfee, Camper, Carr, Chism, Clemmons, Cochran, Coley, Cooper, Dixie, Freeman, Gant, Griffey, Hakeen, Halford, Hardaway, Haston, Hawk, Hazlewood, Hicks, Hodges, Holsclaw, Jernigan, G. Johnson, Keisling, Lamar, Love, Miller, Mitchell, Parkinson, Potts, Powell, Ramsey, Russell, C. Sexton, Shaw, Staples, Stewart, Thompson, Towns, Travis, Vaughan, Weaver, Whitson, Windle, Wright.
NOT VOTING (1) — Moody