Local lawmakers discuss controversial school voucher legislation after the end of the 2019 session. 

It took a final vote on the Senate floor to send the Education Saving Account, also called the Voucher Bill, to Governor Bill Lee’s desk. 

Representative Matthew Hill wasn’t sure about the Governor’s first proposal. 

“The Governor purposed his original ESA legislation, and I saw that it had the potential to be financially detrimental to our county and city school systems.”

So, instead, Hill proposing an amendment that the bill would only apply to specific counties.

“We adopted that amendment, the bill passed with that amendment. So the net effect is, is that ESAs will not financially impact Washington County Schools or Johnson City Schools for the duration of the program. The legislation specifically says that they are only ESA’s are only applicable in Davidson County and Shelby County,” said Hill. 

Both Davidson and Shelby County have ten failing schools between them. 

The voucher allows students of those schools to attend private schools, taking the money provided by the state to the public school with them to the private school. 

Senator Rusty Crowe also voting for the amended bill.

“The governor was very sincere in trying to help a few kids get out of the bad situation they’re in. That’s a bill that took $7,300 out of the school system, but it put back in three times 73. $7,300 a year for three years when that student left. At the same time, we’re trying to fix those schools. So we’re not just saying we’re throwing these schools to the side. We’re letting these kids move up and out, and at the same time we’re trying to fix these schools,” said Crowe.

Teachers are worried that the legislation could take money out of the public school system.

Hill said that he hears their concerns and agrees with their concerns to the extent of not wanting this to financially harm the school systems.

Crowe said that he’s been on the school budget committee for over twenty years and isn’t going to let that happen. 

“It’s a pilot program to see how they do in those two counties. There’s a reporting provision. So after three years, there would be a report issued to the General Assembly that will show everything from what was spent, how it was spent, and testing results. Did the student improve, did they do better,” Hill explains. 

After the pilot program is over, a review of it will be conducted after the three years. Lawmakers can then have the option to present legislation for any changes.

The budget just passed by Tennessee State Lawmakers has $6.5 billion for K-12 education. $71 Million of that is just for teacher raises alone across the state.