More lawmakers raise concerns over ESA law, one shared regret over voting for bill

More lawmakers raise concerns over ESA law, one shared regret over voting for bill

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WMC) - New concerns from lawmakers about the controversial school voucher bill. The Education Spending Account plan, which narrowly passed last year, would only impact Shelby County and Metro Nashville students.

The Department of Education answered to a firing squad of questions Wednesday, raised by lawmakers about the controversial Education Spending Account law.

As Shelby County and Metro Nashville sue to stop the implementation of the voucher bill, lawmakers are also taking a closer look at the law, asking for another look at both the law and and what they call “sketchy” practices.

Serious questions were raised by House Appropriations Committee, including one key Republican who now regrets voting in favor of the voucher bill.

“I made a decision to support the legislation. Since that day I have probably regretted that vote more than any vote that I have taken,” said Rep. Jeremy Faison- (R) Cosby.

The governor’s plan is set to roll out for the 2020-2021 school year. It would allow qualifying students in Shelby County and Metro Nashville school systems get more than $7,100 to go toward private school tuition, the cost of transportation, or educational supplies.

Department of Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn and her staff answered questions about what appeared to be a “no bid contract” for the vendor set to run the voucher program along with the approval of spending of more than $6.3 million for the contract, more than eight times the amount approved by legislators.

“How does $750,000, which was approved by the legislature, turn into $6,328,750? And where in the world did you get this money," said Rep. Matthew Hill,- (R-TN) Jonesborough.

“It almost looked like you found a vendor and then collectively got together and said, ‘let’s come up with a contract.’ To the general public, that’s what this looks like," said Rep. Faison.

Despite those concerns, Governor Bill Lee said one day after the heated hearing that he's not backing down.

“There are those who have concerns about that but I am most concerned about the kids in our state,” said Gov. Lee.

House Minority Leader Karen Camper has asked for an audit to show the timeline of the ESA law along with the decisions made to award the vendor the contract.

Several other lawmakers are calling on the Comptroller’s Office to investigate Department of Education spending connected the voucher program.

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