Tennessee Senate Passes School Voucher Bill

On Monday, the Tennessee Senate passed the Tennessee Choice & Opportunity Scholarship Act, which would allow low-income students whose schools rank in the bottom 5% in the state for student achievement to obtain vouchers worth $6,628 in the 2015-16 school year to attend private schools.

The bill, sponsored by GOP State Senator Todd Gardenhire of Chattanooga, was approved 24-8 Monday. A similar bill proposed by GOP Gov. Bill Haslam passed in the Senate last year but failed in the House because it wanted the vouchers for the bottom 10% of schools.

$70 million would exit the public schools for private ones in the next three years.

The Tennessee Federation for Children, which backs school vouchers, helped oust Rep. Dennis Roach, R-Rutledge, last year, spending $73,000 to help elect Jerry Sexton in the GOP primary; Roach had voted against the voucher bill.

Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, who sponsored the bill in the House, responded ti criticism from Rep. Kevin Dunlap, D-Rock Island, who bemoaned the lost $70 million for public schools. Dunn answered, "You put the emphasis on the system. I'd like to put emphasis on the student."