School Choice Law Doomed?!

( – Despite significant strides towards the implementation of a school choice program in Tennessee, Republicans were unable to finalize an agreement on two different versions of the legislation presented in the state’s House and Senate.

Tennessee Republican Governor Bill Lee, an advocate for the school choice legislation, expressed disappointment on Monday, noting that families “will have to wait yet another year for the freedom to choose the right education for their child.”

This setback comes as the 2024 legislative session draws to a close this week, with a new General Assembly poised to take office post-elections this fall.

“I am extremely disappointed for the families who will have to wait yet another year for the freedom to choose the right education for their child, especially when there is broad agreement that now is the time to bring universal school choice to Tennessee,” Lee stated.

“While we made tremendous progress, unfortunately it has become clear that there is not a pathway for the bill during this legislative session,” he added, cited by The Daily Wire.

The proposed “Education Freedom Scholarship Act,” championed by Lee, aimed to allocate $7,000 scholarships to 20,000 students in the upcoming school year.

Initially, half of these scholarships would be reserved for low-income students, with the remaining available on a first-come, first-served basis.

By the 2025-2026 school year, the plan intended to extend scholarships to all students, facilitating their enrollment in private and charter schools, as well as supporting homeschooling families.

Lee extended his gratitude towards the leadership in both legislative chambers for their commitment to pursue educational freedom in the following year.

The bills under consideration differed significantly between the two legislative bodies. The Senate version, sponsored by Republican Majority Leader Jack Johnson, aligned closely with Lee’s proposal and introduced an additional requirement for scholarship recipients to undergo an annual norm-referenced test approved by the state board of education.

Conversely, the House version, sponsored by Republican House Majority Leader William Lamberth, imposed stricter conditions on how the scholarships could be utilized, limiting them primarily to private schools and excluding potential use by homeschool families.

Lamberth highlighted fiscal prudence as the rationale behind the stringent measures in the House bill.

“We would expand as possible as we go forward. Here in Tennessee, we are always very fiscally conservative. We balance our budget every year,” Lamberth explained earlier this month.

“We are just very careful not to have a program that has no fiscal constraints on it. So the intention would be to expand this program down the road, but we’re going to start out with 20,000 students,” he said.

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