House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh came out swinging against school voucher legislation in a press conference Tuesday, vowing to fight any legislation in 2013 and keep vouchers off the books in Tennessee — certainly no surprise coming from the Ripley Democrat.
“It would be counterproductive and a road we should not go down,” Fitzhugh said. “We’ve done a lot of education reform and it’s time we stepped back and took a look and see what we’ve done instead of stepping out on some cliffs.”
But House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick also indicated that many on the GOP side of the aisle may not rush to press the issue.
“I think we have members who feel very strongly about vouchers, or opportunity scholarships,” the Chattanooga Republican told TNReport. “I think we have a lot of other members who feel like we’ve done a lot of reforms… I think there’s a sentiment among a number of people that we need to go slow when it comes to the vouchers.
Reforms McCormick pointed to include tenure, collective bargaining and teacher evaluation.
“We don’t need to be stampeded into anything too quick.”
Vouchers have been a contentious issue in recent years, with a growing number of legislations — many coming from the ranks of the Tea Party — who see vouchers as a way to fix ailing schools.
In the past, legislation enabling parents to access taxpayer-funded scholarships for sending their children to private schools has passed the Senate but stalled in the House.
Earlier this month, one of the GOP’s strongest advocates of school choice in Tennessee told TNReport that the political environment may be ripe for passing voucher or “opportunity scholarships” legislation next year.
Germantown Sen. Brian Kelsey said he hoped that a governor-appointed task force study report on the issue released late last month will provide the foundation for a policy that can gain support in both chambers of the Republican-run Tennessee General Assembly.
“House members were not familiar with this concept back in 2011 when we first presented it to them,” Kelsey told TNReport at the time. “House members are much more comfortable with the idea of giving low income children more options.”
McCormick’s statements raise questions about passage in the House. And Kesley is unlikely to find an ally in Fitzhugh.
“A program that would take public money and put it into private schools would just do nothing to help either one,” Fitzhugh told reporters.
Trent Seibert can be reached at email@example.com, on Twitter(@trentseibert) or at 615-669-9501.