Voucher Legislation Done for Year — Again

Proponents of school vouchers are left high and dry again in 2015, as clearing the General Assembly’s lower-chamber committee system once more proved too arduous for the long-chewed-over concept.

Knoxville Republican Bill Dunn on Tuesday took his House Bill 1049 “off notice” due to a perceived lack of support in the GOP-run legislative body.

“We were very close on the vote, but I didn’t feel it was good to press it today,” Dunn told TNReport. He said some lawmakers who may have been otherwise sympathetic to school choice were “feeling pressure from the systems back home” to oppose the voucher bill.

The bill would have allowed low-income students in school districts with a school performing in the bottom 5 percent of schools statewide to use public funds to attend private schools. Supporters have argued the proposal would be very beneficial to poor families whose children are stuck in bad schools, while opponents are concerned a program with unproven results will take money from already struggling public schools.

The measure, which has been before the General Assembly for several years, hasn’t had much trouble passing the Senate — including this session: 23-9 — but each year fails to muster enough support in the House.

The hold-up in the lower chamber is that “it gets to that little subcommittee, and it just takes a handful of people to kill it, and we just happened to have a handful of people who are feeling pressure,” Dunn said.

Democrats hailed the defeat as a victory for public education.

“Of all the harebrained education schemes people are pushing on our schools, vouchers are the worst of all,” said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Stewart of Nashville. “Tennesseans should thank the subcommittee members who once again ensured that this bill would not see the light of day.”

The Beacon Center of Tennessee, a free-market think tank based in Nashville that supported the measure, released a statement after the measure failed. Justin Owen, the organization’s CEO, called the move “disappointing.”

“Thousands of children will have to wait yet another year to get the quality education they so badly need and deserve,” Owen said.

Alex Harris can be contacted at Alex@TNReport.com.