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VOL. 35 | NO. 16 | Friday, April 22, 2011




School voucher bill likely dead this session

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NASHVILLE (AP) — A proposal to create a school voucher program for students in Tennessee's four largest counties to attend private or religious schools has likely failed this session after a House panel voted Wednesday to send it to a study committee for further review over the summer.

The House Education Subcommittee's decision on the measure sponsored by Republican Rep. Bill Dunn of Knoxville to a study committee comes about a week after the Senate approved the companion bill by a vote of 18-10.

Sponsors said the measure is designed to help children from low-income families get out of failing schools and find the school that best meets their needs.

"This deals with the individual child, which ... we should be most interested in," Dunn said.

But some committee members said such legislation may be premature.

"We've got a lot of reform going on right now," said Richard Montgomery, a Sevierville Republican who is also chairman of the House Education Committee. "Right now, I think we need to study and make sure we know what we're doing."

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam has called school vouchers "an interesting concept," but he said they would not be part of his agenda this year. GOP leaders in the House said they like the idea of vouchers, but they questioned whether there's enough time left in the session to pass the bill in the lower chamber.

House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick said last week that he believed the legislation should be thoroughly studied "before we push it all the way through."

"So I don't know if we're in an urgent rush," said the Chattanooga Republican.

Some lawmakers questioned how the study committee would be compiled, and Montgomery suggested Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell of Nashville should decide its makeup.

Harwell told reporters last week that she thought the proposal fits with other efforts this year to make teacher tenure more difficult to obtain, lift a cap on charter schools and curb teachers' collective bargaining rights.

"Why take an option away?" she said. "If you could help a child, let's pursue it."

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