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VOL. 39 | NO. 11 | Friday, March 13, 2015

Tennessee school voucher bill headed for full Senate vote

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NASHVILLE (AP) - The House sponsor of a proposal to create a school voucher program in Tennessee says he's taking his time moving it through the legislative process after it failed in the last two legislative sessions.

Rep. Bill Dunn was scheduled to discuss the measure in a House education committee on Tuesday but delayed talking about it.

The Knoxville Republican told The Associated Press after the meeting that he plans to bring it back up and that the delay was mainly because some committee members were absent, and to work on an amendment.

Dunn wouldn't reveal details of the amendment, but said he wants to give the bill the best chance to pass this session.

"I've learned down here the slower you go, the faster you get there," Dunn said. "So don't take chances, do it right."

The proposal is part of a push in Tennessee and abroad to provide parents with more educational choice. The voucher legislation would give parents t he option to move a child from a failing public school to a private school with funding from the state.

It's similar to a measure Republican Gov. Bill Haslam proposed last year that failed. The governor also failed to pass voucher legislation in the previous session.

Under Dunn's proposal, eligibility would be opened to low-income students in districts that have a school in the bottom five percent.

Haslam's proposal was approved in the Senate last year, but the House version was unsuccessful because it sought to expand eligibility to the bottom 10 percent of failing schools.

The companion bill to Dunn's proposal passed the Senate Finance Committee earlier Tuesday and was to be scheduled for a vote on the Senate floor.

Committee member Thelma Harper was one of two votes against the proposal, which she said would take needed money away from public schools.

The veteran Nashville Democrat said public schools were an effective way of education w hen she was growing up and that most still are, even though some are struggling.

"Hell, we didn't have any choice," Harper said during the committee hearing. "We're built on public schools. We should take care of public schools."

House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh agreed.

"We have one pot of money for our schools," the Democrat said in a statement. "If we allow private institutions to start taking millions upon millions of dollars out of our classrooms, you won't be helping any child."

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