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VOL. 38 | NO. 3 | Friday, January 17, 2014

Republicans discuss new voucher bill with governor

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NASHVILLE (AP) - Republican state lawmakers have proposed a school voucher bill they hope will be acceptable to Gov. Bill Haslam, who has repeatedly said he favors a more limited version of the program that gives parents another option for educating their children.

Sen. Brian Kelsey of Germantown said Thursday that he spoke with the Republican governor Wednesday night about the proposal, which is co-sponsored by Sen. Dolores Gresham of Somerville and is supported by Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville.

Haslam's proposal is limited to students from low-income families attending the bottom 5 percent of failing schools. He had that measure withdrawn last year when Senate Republicans sought to expand to a larger number of children.

The measure now being proposed by Republicans would affect students attending the bottom 10 percent of failing schools.

Kelsey didn't elaborate on his conversation with Haslam, only saying that the g overnor wants to see a bill pass this year.

"Sen. Gresham and I have gone a long way toward offering a compromise that we hope fits within the governor's desires for a bill that he would like to see this year," he said.

A spokesman for the governor didn't immediately respond to an email from The Associated Press about the new proposal, but Haslam has said he plans to stick with his legislation.

"Let's walk into this, see the impact," the governor said earlier this week. "We think getting something passed is very important and I think what we're proposing makes sense for Tennessee."

Under the new proposal, the program would be opened to anyone interested if the entire number isn't filled by students from low-income families attending failing schools.

"I think that's a good compromise," Ramsey said.

Democrats have been among the most vocal critics of vouchers - or so-called "opportunity scholarships" - which give parents the option to move a child from a failing public school to a private school, with the state providing funds for tuition. They say more funds should be given to public school systems to educate students rather than private schools.

However, Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle said he would support a limited voucher proposal like the governor's.

"I think the governor is leading us on the correct path," said Kyle, D-Memphis. "Let's get the process down, and then see where we go."