Bipartisan effort to repeal Tennessee school voucher plan emerges as Gov. Bill Lee accelerates timeline for rollout

Governor Lee on Vouchers

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - There’s now a bipartisan call to repeal Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee’s controversial school voucher plan. The education savings account plan would allow public money to be used in private schools in Shelby and Davidson counties.

Lee, speaking at an event in Tipton County Monday, said he wants the program to be ready for a fall 2020 rollout.

A Republican state representative in northwest Tennessee has now joined an effort by Democratic lawmakers in the House of Representatives to get rid of Lee’s voucher plan next legislative session. It comes as Lee said he wants to accelerate the timeline for its implementation.

“The sooner we can get high quality education to kids, the better. If we can have this program ready in the fall, then we want to roll it out,” said Lee.

The governor told WMC Action News 5 that work is already underway to have education savings accounts, or vouchers as they’re commonly called, ready for fall 2020.

The pilot program narrowly passed in the general assembly earlier this year set forth a rollout in the 2021-2022 school year.

Under the plan, families in Shelby and Davidson counties could qualify for more than $7,000 worth of taxpayer money to send their children to private schools. Enrollment would be capped to 5,000 applicants in year one.

“I am most excited about the opportunities and the prospects that kids are going to have in our state,” said Lee.

Representative Bruce Griffey is a Republican whose district includes Henry, Benton, and Stewart counties in northwest Tennessee. Griffey is joining Democratic colleagues in the Tennessee House to call for the repeal of Lee’s voucher plan.

Griffey said he’s never supported vouchers and the singling out of schools in Shelby and Davidson counties will create another problem.

“We ought to be focusing on what we can do to improve the education for every single Tennessee student,” said Griffey. “The school voucher program, it may help a few of those kids that want to leave public school and go to a private institution. But it doesn’t do a thing to address the folks that are still left in those schools.”

Here’s what Lee said Monday when asked about the latest criticism.

“There are those who have opposed it for whatever reason and that’s what this is about,” said Lee. " But I haven’t spoken to anyone about that."

Educational journalism group Chalkbeat reported earlier this month the state signed a $2.5 million contract with a Florida vendor to manage payments and application systems for the voucher plan.

The next legislative session convenes in Nashville in January 2020.

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