Tennessee School Voucher Program Plans End After Gov. Bill Lee Admits Defeat

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee on Monday conceded defeat in his bid to pass universal school vouchers this year, acknowledging there was “no path forward for the bill” after months of struggle republican intestines.

“I am extremely disappointed for families who will have to wait another year to have the freedom to choose the education that is right for their child, especially when there is broad consensus that now is the time to provide a universal school choice in Tennessee,” Lee, a Republican, said in a statement.

Lee first revealed his plans last fall to allow families to access public money for private education, regardless of their income. At the time, he was surrounded by national school choice advocates, the state's top Republican legislative leaders and even Arkansas Republican Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who signed a voucher proposal into law that year and had taken advantage of the event to boast that a conservative education a revolution was taking place throughout the country.


Yet despite the initial support, Lee's vision has always been seen as ambitious in a state where rural GOP lawmakers have remained skeptical about losing limited funds for public schools in their own districts.

Image of the TN Capitol AP

After months of trying to promote universal school vouchers, Gov. Bill Lee conceded he followed state legislative leaders' division in favor of school funding. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, file)

For months, the mostly Republican Tennessee General Assembly has been deeply divided over the details of how such a statewide plan would work. Different versions advanced in the House and Senate, but were ultimately stalled as legislative leaders worked behind the scenes to reach an agreement.

But since last week, the tone inside the Tennessee Capitol had shifted noticeably as lawmakers entered the final weeks of session and hopes for a deal began to fade. As of last week, no one has publicly declared that the bill is dead, instead saying that ultimately this call must come from Lee.

Lee has since promised to resume negotiations on school vouchers next session, although it is unclear whether this attempt will be more successful, as some members will not return next year due to retirement and d Others face opponents in this year's elections.

Notably, House and Senate budget writers still set aside $144 million for the bond increase in their spending proposals. That means the money will sit idle for nearly a year until school voucher negotiations can resume next January.

“Many initiatives take several years, or even several town hall meetings, before they are ripe for adoption,” said Senate President Randy McNally. “This is not an ending, but a new beginning. Conversations will continue over the summer and fall, and we will return to the issue in the next session with a renewed focus.”


Lee first asked lawmakers to consider expanding school vouchers in 2019, when the plan was to allow parents of students in certain low-income districts with three or more schools ranked in the top 10% poor people to receive $7,300 from an account authorized by the government to pay. for approved expenses.

After numerous changes, Republicans barely passed a package that only applied to the Democratic strongholds of Davidson and Shelby counties, which encompass Nashville and Memphis. Lee's victory came as some GOP members received assurances that it would never apply to their own districts.


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