Mar 25, 2024 - News

Dueling voucher expansion bills move ahead in Tennessee

Illustration of the Tennessee State Capitol building with lines radiating from it.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Dueling versions of a school voucher expansion plan have advanced in the House and Senate despite sustained criticism from public school leaders.

State of play: Expanding vouchers statewide is one of Gov. Bill Lee's top legislative priorities this year. His budget proposal sets aside about $144 million for the first year of the expansion. The Senate and House have vastly different ideas about how to enact the plan.

  • The Senate's version would allow students to use about $7,100 in vouchers to attend participating private schools. It would also allow students to attend public schools in any district with enough space.
  • The House's version, which is much more expensive, adds more funding for public school building costs and teacher health insurance coverage. It also relaxes public school testing and teacher evaluation requirements.

Zoom in: The Tennessean reports the price of the House version is about $250 million higher than the Senate version.

  • Lee told reporters it was too soon to weigh in on the discrepancy.
  • Negotiators from both chambers will likely have to hammer out a compromise.

What's next: The House and Senate versions of voucher expansion are still making their way through committees.

  • "There is a great deal of distance between the two chambers," Lt. Gov. Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge), the speaker of the Senate, told reporters last week. "But that doesn't mean it can't get resolved."
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