Lawmaker calls for investigation of new Tennessee school voucher program

Lawmaker calls for investigation into funding for Gov. Lee's school voucher program

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - A state lawmaker is calling for an investigation into funding for Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee’s school voucher program.

Lee’s school voucher program would give taxpayer money to low-income families in Shelby and Davidson counties to send their kids to private schools starting this fall.

But last week, the counties sued claiming the program is unconstitutional. And now, State Rep. Bo Mitchell, D-Nashville, is raising more concerns.

"This is clearly a violation of the state constitution," said Mitchell.

The state approved $771,000 to implement the school voucher program this year.

But Tennessee Department of Education leaders say they signed a two-year contract with a Florida vendor for $1.2 million per year, in part, by using money left over from an old account.

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Mitchell wants to know if any laws or rules were violated.

"I'm calling on the comptroller to investigate the voucher funding and where the funds came from and why they weren't fully funded in the first year as the state constitution requires," said Mitchell.

Mitchell opposes vouchers and introduced a bill with State Sen. Sara Kyle, D-Memphis, to repeal the law.

"I think we first need to look at our public schools and give them the resources and the structures they need to excel," said Kyle.

Tennessee education leaders grilled over school vouchers

At a recent committee hearing, education leaders said they were working with the Attorney General’s office so the program gets implemented properly.

"I think that as we have been working to implement the ESA program for an August launch, we have looked at what would be required to do so at the highest possible quality, which is what every child deserves," said Penny Schwinn, Tennessee's education commissioner.

In a statement to WMC Action News 5, John Dunn, a spokesman for the comptroller of the treasury said, "We are aware of Rep. Mitchell's request, and we have been meeting with legislative staff to discuss this issue. I don't believe this would rise to the level of an investigation, but we are working to provide information to the legislature as they seek to learn more."

Mitchell and Kyle's bill remains in committee.

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