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VOL. 40 | NO. 3 | Friday, January 15, 2016

School voucher proposal clears key Tennessee House panel

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NASHVILLE (AP) - A proposal to provide state vouchers of about $7,000 for parents to send their children to private schools in Tennessee has cleared a House panel that rejected the measure in recent years.

The bill sponsored by Republican Rep. Bill Dunn of Knoxville cleared the House Finance Subcommittee on a voice vote Wednesday. It would apply to students who attend public schools that rank in the bottom 5 percent in the state.

The measure now heads for the full Finance Committee before moving to a floor vote. The companion bill passed the Senate last year.

The program would be capped at 5,000 students in the first year and would then grow by 5,000 each year until reaching 20,000.

Dunn said the state costs of the proposal will be covered in Republican Gov. Bill Haslam's budget this year. Haslam has in the past supported a limited voucher program in Tennessee, but previous efforts have fallen apart amid advocates' attempts to c reate a more expansive program.

House Democratic leader Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley warned of what he called the "devastating effect" of shifting funding out of public schools to pay for the voucher program.

The Legislature estimates it would cost about $185,000 for the state to put the voucher program in effect. But the program would also shift nearly $17 million away from public schools in the first year, and grow to about $70 million in the fourth year.

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