Tennessee Senate Passes School Voucher Expansion Bill

Image Credit: capitol.tn.gov

The Tennessee Conservative [By Adelia Kirchner] –

Sen. Todd Gardenhire’s (R-Chattanooga-District 10) bill to include Hamilton County in Tennessee’s Education Savings Account (ESA) Pilot Program was passed with a 20-6 vote on the Senate Floor yesterday

Senate Bill 0012 (SB0012) would expand the eligibility criteria for the state’s ESA pilot program, to include students attending priority schools within Hamilton County. 

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Rep. Mark White (R-Memphis-District 83) is sponsoring the corresponding House Bill, HB0433.

Read more about this legislation here.

While the Senate was in session on February 16th, 2023, Sen. Gardenhire gave a detailed background of Hamilton County’s efforts to revitalize their school system. 

Back in 2017 the county hired on a new superintendent and allocated $20 Million in funds towards the district schools, formulating a plan to fix their issues. 

According to Sen. Gardenhire, this plan had three parts. 1) They would set up a partnership zone system and establish a community advisory board. 2) The special project coordinator would be in charge of this plan from start to finish. 3) The state would extend extra funding to partnership zoned schools.

“Here’s the results” he said, “the community board has been regulated to a quarterly meeting where the new director presents a dog and pony show […] but to their credit, […] two schools […] came off of that list.”

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When the ESA pilot program was introduced in 2019, leaders from Hamilton County wanted to exclude themselves from the bill in order to give their previous plan a chance to work.

Unfortunately, less than satisfactory results were achieved through their efforts and Sen. Gardenhire decided to draft SB0012.

The number of schools on Hamilton County’s priority list have fluctuated over the years. By 2022, the list had grown to consist of nine priority schools and the county currently sits with a list of eight.

Sen. Gardenhire likened the ever-changing list to a game of whackamole saying, “You fix one and three pop up.”

He then addressed his colleagues saying, “Whether you like the ESA bill or not, it’s here, [and] it has passed all the legal challenges […] let’s give my county’s parents the opportunity to offer choice to their students.”

After clarifying that the bill would not change the admission caps outlined in the original pilot program bill, the Senate passed SB0012 by a vote of 20-6.

The six “nay” votes were maintained by Democrat Senators Akbari, Campbell, Kyle, Lamar, Oliver, and Yarbro.

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Corresponding House Bill 0433 is scheduled to be heard by the House K-12 Subcommittee on February 21st, 2023.

If you would like to express support for this legislation, contact information for the Representatives on the subcommittee can be found below.

Rep. Kirk Haston (R) – Chair – rep.kirk.haston@capitol.tn.gov – (615) 741-0750

Rep. Gino Bulso (R) – rep.gino.bulso@capitol.tn.gov – (615) 741-6808

Rep. Chris Hurt (R) – rep.chris.hurt@capitol.tn.gov – (615) 741-2134

Rep. Sam McKenzie (D) – rep.sam.mckenzie@capitol.tn.gov – (615) 741-0768

Rep. Bryan Richey (R) – rep.bryan.richey@capitol.tn.gov – (615) 741-3560

Rep. William Slater (R) – rep.william.slater@capitol.tn.gov – (615) 741-2534

Rep. Robert Stevens (R) – rep.robert.stevens@capitol.tn.gov – (615) 741-3830

Rep. Todd Warner (R) – rep.todd.warner@capitol.tn.gov – (615) 741-4170

Rep. Mark White (R) – Bill Sponsor – rep.mark.white@capitol.tn.gov – (615) 741-4415

About the Author: Adelia Kirchner is a Tennessee resident and reporter for the Tennessee Conservative. Currently the host of Subtle Rampage Podcast, she has also worked for the South Dakota State Legislature and interned for Senator Bill Hagerty’s Office in Nashville, Tennessee.

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