News: Quick Takes

Tennessee May Join North Carolina In Expanding School Choice

Tennessee state House will vote Thursday on bill providing tuition vouchers to children in failing public schools

Tennessee lawmakers will vote Feb. 11 on the Tennessee Choice and Opportunity Scholarship Act, a law that would allow parents of low-income students to use up to $6,628 of public money to attend private school.

The voucher system is similar to North Carolina’s Opportunity Scholarship Program, enacted in 2013 by the General Assembly. In contrast to Tennessee’s funding allotment, North Carolina allows up to $4,200 in funding per student per year. The program has awarded more than 2,500 children scholarships allowing them to attend private school during the 2015-16 school year.

The Tar Heel State’s Opportunity Scholarship Program was subjected to a host of legal challenges regarding the use of public tax dollars to fund private school tuitions before July 2015, when the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled the law constitutional.

Tennessee’s bill has faced opposition of its own from teacher’s unions and other organizations arguing that any diversion of funds from public schools is a misuse of tax dollars.

The bill’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Bill Dunn, expects the vote to be close, and asked that the originally scheduled Feb. 8 vote be postponed to Feb. 11 to ensure all supporters of the bill are present to vote.

“Sometimes the slower you go, the faster you get there,” Dunn said. “And so I’m pleased I’m to this point here where people are finally putting students before the system. I want to make sure it passes this year. Because if not, it means another year of children on the path to failure rather than on the path to success.”

If passed by the House, the bill — which was approved by the Senate last year — would affect five districts with failing schools.

Click here to read more about Tennessee’s debate over school choice.