A proposal to provide state vouchers for parents to send their children to private schools in Tennessee has cleared a House committee where the measure failed in recent years.
The bill was sponsored by Rep. Bill Dunn of Knoxville.
Memphis parent Keith Williams supports the bill, which shifts tens of millions of dollars yearly from public K-12 education funds to a voucher system where mainly low-income parents could send their children to private or religious schools with the the money.
“We have petitions with 60-thousand signatures in the city of Memphis saying this is what we want, we need options, we want a choice,” said an emotional Keith Williams before the committee hearing the bill.
Tom Weber of Nashville told the same committee about his kids at Nashville’s Tusculum Elementary.
Sponsor Dunn argued Republican Governor Bill Haslam has put a lot of money in K-12 education, so let’s make the best use of it.“Right now they are in 23-portables, right now kids ar coming from refugee camps trying to learn English the same time they are learning,” said the parent thinks more funding rather than vouchers would help.
“So its not like we are starving our schools,” said Dunn. “There is more money to improve them.”
House Democrat leader Craig Fitzhugh raised a question often heard about vouchers.
“Just because you give somebody a choice, that it is automatically going to be better,” he told Dunn during testimony in the commiteee.
The school voucher or choice bill now goes to the full House Budget committee after narrowly passing the subcommittee by a voice instead of a roll call vote.
Another democrat blasted the voice vote where committee members don’t have to individually say yes or no on the bill, but could later request their vote to be recorded.
“Its a bad process and it led to an extremely bad result for school children and the taxpayers.” said House Democratic Caucus chair Mike Stewart.
a republican leader defended the bill.
House Republican leader Gerald McCormick saw it differently.
“As chairmen Dunn likes to say, ‘you know if you wait a year, there is another class that goes through, and the time is over for waiting,’ so thank you for bringing the bill,” said Rep. McCormick right before the vote.