(NASHVILLE, Tenn.), January 16, 2015 – State Senator Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown), filed legislation yesterday afternoon to create Opportunity Scholarships with a new “Local Control” provision. Senate Bill 122 mirrors Gov. Haslam’s “Tennessee Choice and Opportunity Scholarship Act” that passed the Senate last year with the addition of a new “Local Control” provision.
“All children deserve the chance for a quality education,” said Sen. Kelsey. “This bill will focus on low-income children but will give local school boards more control in how to best design the scholarships for their students.”
As in the governor’s bill, Opportunity Scholarships of roughly $6,500 would be offered to low-income students to attend the school of their parents’ choice. The scholarships would be offered to all students eligible for free and reduced price lunch in schools performing in the bottom 5% of schools in the state. Free and reduced price lunch is offered to families making up to $44,000 annually for a family of four.
The scholarship program would be capped at 5,000 students in year one, 7,500 in year two, 10,000 in year three, and 20,000 in year four and thereafter. If those caps are not reached each year, scholarships would be offered to other low-income children in those counties in which a school in the bottom 5% of schools is located.
The new local control provision would allow any local school board and county commission to opt into the program if it wants to. Local control would include the option to waive the low-income requirement. The “Local Control” provision could help residents in fast-growing counties save millions in property taxes. Rather than building a new $25 million school every two years, counties could instead send some new students into the Opportunity Scholarship program. A recent study by the Friedman Foundation estimates the bill could save Williamson County $319 million over the next five years and prevent a potential property tax rate hike of 6 to 7%.
“This is an idea whose time has come,” added Kelsey, who first introduced the idea in the Tennessee legislature ten years ago.
Last year, the bill passed the Senate as well as the House Education Committee before getting stuck in the House Finance Committee. New committee assignments for the next two years will be announced in the General Assembly tomorrow.
Senator Kelsey represents Cordova, East Memphis, and Germantown. He served as a member of the Senate Education Committee and as Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee during the last General Assembly.