Legislation To Expand Tennessee’s ESA Program To Hamilton And Knox Counties Cleared Its Final Committee Hurdle Before Heading To The House Floor For A Vote. Republican Representatives Ron Gant And Todd Warner Asked To Be Recorded As Voting Against The Bill.
Image Credit: capitol.tn.gov
The Tennessee Conservative [By Jason Vaughn] –
The proposed legislation sought to add Hamilton County to Tennessee’s ESA Pilot Program but has since added Knox County to the request. The pilot program provides resource funding and school vouchers for students attending “priority schools”, which has only been enacted in Davidson and Shelby counties at this point.
House Bill 0433 is sponsored by Rep. Mark White (R-Memphis-District 83), and its corresponding Senate Bill, SB0012, which was passed on the Senate floor back in February, is sponsored by Sen. Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga-District 10).
Chairman White was recognized during the Education Administration, where he then explained the bill and its amendment to include Hamilton and Knox counties.
The floor was then opened for questions.
Chairman Scott Cepicky asked a clarifying question to acknowledge that the current bill is created to add Hamilton and Knox counties to the existing ESA bill that had been passed in years prior.
Representative Sam McKenzie asked, “Is the goal of the original bill to have a pilot project in Shelby and Davidson counties?”
Chairman White requested speakers address that question. The committee then went out of session.
Bill Dunn from the Department of Education, Brent Easley from the Governor’s Office, and Jim Rye from TEA spoke regarding the bill. Jim Rye spoke in opposition to the bill, stating that local governments would be forced to subsidize tuition for students who are already attending private schools in those counties.
Representative Charlie Baum (R-Murfreesboro-District 37) argued that local school districts would have to fund those students whether they take the voucher or not, based on the way the legislation is written, because those students would have had to have attended a public school at one time.
According to Dunn, studies have also shown that public schools actually improved with the competition from the voucher program.
Representative Scott Cepicky (R-Culleoka-District 64) noted that people were arguing that there were not enough students participating in the program for them to have data to determine if the program was working. He stated that the way to fix that was to add more students to the program so they could get to that data more quickly.
After the committee went back into session, discussion continued and then a voice vote was taken.
Ayes prevailed with four representatives asking to be recorded as voting against the bill: Representatives Ron Gant (R-Piperton-District 94), Harold Love, Jr. (D-Nashville-District 58), Sam McKenzie (D-Knoxville-District 15), and Todd Warner (R-Chapel Hill-District 92).
House Bill 0433 (HB0043) was then placed on the Calendar & Rules Committee for April 13, 2023 and has been scheduled for a final vote on the House Floor on April 17, 2023. If you wish to express your support for this legislation, you can find your Representative’s contact information HERE.
About the Author: Jason Vaughn, Media Coordinator for The Tennessee Conservative ~ Jason previously worked for a legacy publishing company based in Crossville, TN in a variety of roles through his career. Most recently, he served as Deputy Director for their flagship publication. Prior, he was a freelance journalist writing articles that appeared in the Herald Citizen, the Crossville Chronicle and The Oracle among others. He graduated from Tennessee Technological University with a Bachelor’s in English-Journalism, with minors in Broadcast Journalism and History. Contact Jason at news@TennesseeConservativeNews.com