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The fate of school vouchers in Tennessee will be decided tomorrow, and there is an usual fight brewing. The problem doesn’t seem to be whether or not to offer vouchers, but how many and to whom. Arguments over these details could lead to vouchers being scrapped altogether.
To satisfy the Tennessee legislature, Governor Bill Haslam proposed the Tennessee Choice and Opportunity Scholarship Act, which was limited to low-income children in failing schools. He also capped the available vouchers to 5,000 in its first year, although it is set to grow to 20,000 by 2016. However, in an interesting twist, Haslam may kill his own proposal rather than accept amendments currently being discussed.
Competing measures, filed by Senator Dolores Gresham (R) and Brian Kelsey (R) would not limit participation to low-performing schools and has no limitation on growth, allowing a greater range of families in Tennessee the ability to choose the best fit for education. Gresham and Kelsey are now pushing for Haslam’s bill to be amended to look more like theirs, increasing the number of children and families who would have access to vouchers. If this happens, Haslam has said that he will withdraw his bill. “We put a lot of thought into what we thought the right proposal is,” he said. “We do think that starting with low-income students in the lowest-performing schools makes sense.”
They say that the devil is in the details. In this case, those details might just kill school Vouchers in Tennessee before they even take off. No child should have to wait for a better education, so let’s hope that Tennessee can come together for education reform when the bill is heard tomorrow.