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Haslam: 2015 Could Be Year for Vouchers

Governor didn’t sponsor ‘opportunity scholarship’ legislation this year, but likes overall chances of bill up for Senate vote Monday

Legislation that allows a limited number of parents of kids in districts with poor performing schools to access taxpayer dollars to in turn enroll their children in private schools looks on track to finally pass the General Assembly, Gov. Bill Haslam suggested Monday.

“I feel good about where we are in terms of where the bill is,” Haslam told reporters in Nashville following a morning speech at the Army Aviation Association of America Conference. “Now, from here to actually getting the ship into port is always difficult, but I actually do think there’s a really good chance we will get it passed this year.”

The measure, Senate Bill 999 — sponsored by Chattanooga Republican Todd Gardenhire — is up for a vote in the full Senate this evening. It was originally scheduled for a floor vote last Thursday, but was rolled to Monday.

The House version — HB1049 — sponsored by Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, is scheduled to be heard Tuesday in the Government Operations Committee. That measure last week cleared the Education Administration and Planning Committee on an 8-5 vote. Two Republicans — Kent Calfee of Kingston and Jim Coley of Bartlett — voted against the bill, joining Democrats Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley, Kevin Dunlap of Rock Island and Johnnie Turner of Memphis. John DeBerry of Memphis was the lone Democrat on the Committee who joined seven Republicans voting in favor of the bill.

The proposal would create opportunity scholarships for any low income students receiving their education within a district that contains a school in the bottom 5 percent of statewide education institutions.

Vouchers legislation has has at times in the past looked to be headed to passage in the General Assembly only to die in the late going. Last year a bill stalled in the House in mid-April.

Alex Harris can be contacted at

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