Breaking News:Tennessee’s plan for universal school vouchers is off the table for now, according to the…Read More.

Ultimately, the gap between Tennessee’s competing school voucher bills proved too large to bridge.

On Monday, Governor Bill Lee admitted that his initiative to establish a universal school voucher program, which had faced setbacks for over a month, was off the table for the year. Republican leaders in the Tennessee House and Senate couldn’t resolve their differences regarding testing and funding, leading to the program’s demise.
While we made tremendous progress, unfortunately it has become clear that there is not a pathway for the bill during this legislative session,” Lee said in a statement Monday.

The Republican governor vowed to return with another plan next year and added that he’s disappointed for families “who will have to wait yet another year for the freedom to choose the right education for their child.”

The proposal’s failure this year hands Lee one of the biggest defeats of his administration, now in its second term.
This development underscores that despite the momentum school vouchers have gained in Tennessee, with several court and legislative victories, Governor Lee’s statewide voucher proposal continues to be a contentious issue. The program is divisive because it could disrupt urban, suburban, and rural public school districts and place additional strain on state finances.

At present, Tennessee only has a targeted voucher program in three urban counties, providing taxpayer funding for 2,095 students to pay toward private school tuition, as well as a smaller voucher program for students with specific disabilities.

As part of his wider school-choice agenda, Governor Lee aimed to expand his new voucher program to all K-12 students across Tennessee, regardless of family income. However, the House and Senate took vastly different approaches to the proposed bills, ultimately failing to reconcile their differences.
But the chambers deadlocked on two issues, according to Senate Education Committee Chairman Jon Lundberg, the Bristol Republican who worked with House Republican leaders for weeks to reach a compromise.
First, in addition to establishing a new private school voucher program, the more comprehensive and costly House version proposed a significant reduction in testing and accountability requirements for public school students.

Senator Jon Lundberg commented, “We had worked really hard to get those measures into place, and believe it would be a step backward for our state.”

Second, the House version suggested boosting the state’s share of public school teachers’ medical insurance coverage from 45% to 60%, but proposed funding this increase by reallocating money intended for teacher raises.

This funding plan became unviable last week when the legislature approved the 2024-25 budget, which preserved the $125 million that Governor Lee had earmarked for increasing the annual minimum salary for public school teachers from $42,000 to $44,500, as promised last year by the governor.
Ultimately, the House and the Senate had looked at education freedom scholarships through two different lenses,” Lundberg told Chalkbeat on Monday. “We looked at it as school choice legislation. The House looked at it as a way to achieve both school choice and education reform.

“Our perspectives were just so different that we could not come together at the end,” he said.

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