NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — A bill to expand private school vouchers to all 95 Tennessee counties is coming. Gov. Bill Lee (R-Tennessee) said he hasn’t read the proposal at this point, but he supports the concept.
“In 2019, I brought, originally, an Education Savings Account plan that was for the entire state,” he said.
That bill was eventually parsed down and saw a lengthy debate and a vote then-Speaker of the House Glen Casada (R-Franklin) held open for roughly 45 minutes, urging lawmakers to approve it.
Eventually, Rep. Jason Zachary (R-Knoxville) flipped his vote after Knox County was removed, leaving the program only in Davidson and Shelby counties.
This year, it was expanded to add Hamilton County.
“Parents want to have more options for their kids,” Lee said. “We should give them that.”
Democrats have regularly thrashed the idea of a voucher expansion, saying Tennesseans shouldn’t be paying for other students to go to private schools and citing a curriculum that can’t be regulated.
“There is no endgame when it comes to public education for the GOP running the state of Tennessee,” House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Ray Clemmons (D-Nashville) said.
Clemmons argues Lee has been underfunding public schools his entire tenure, then pushing poorer results as a reason to flock to private schools. “They try to make private educators the only alternative in a lot of peoples’ minds,” Clemmons said. “It’s a self-defeating model.”
Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) said he’s open to the voucher concept.
“People are dissatisfied with what their kids are achieving at some public schools in our state,” Sexton said.
But he didn’t exactly give the idea a rousing endorsement, instead giving more credence to charter schools.
“I’ve always said I think it’s unfair – that’s why I’ve always been a proponent of charter schools, I’ve been a proponent of other things to say, ‘parents need to have an alternative if their kid’s in a bad school,’” Sexton said. “Charter schools, in some places, are a good option.”