Voucher Legislation Includes Caps, Private School Restrictions

The voucher proposal from Governor Bill Haslam requires private schools to take the money as payment in full. Image courtesy Greatschools.

The voucher proposal from Governor Bill Haslam requires private schools to take the money as payment in full. Image courtesy Greatschools.

A proposed voucher program would be restricted to students poor enough to get free or reduced lunch and attending a school in the bottom five percent in the state. School voucher legislation from the Haslam Administration has been filed for consideration by the General Assembly.

The bill says private schools that take the state money must accept it as payment in full, even though their total tuition may be more. The number of participants is also capped at 5,000 in the first year.

Majority Leader Gerald McCormick will shepherd the legislation through the House, and says he intends to keep the restrictions Governor Bill Haslam laid out.

“Make sure we go carefully and slowly and do it right so we don’t have to come back and undo it next year.”

Republican leaders in the Senate are more inclined to a larger voucher program.

Senate sponsor Mark Norris says some families tell him if anyone is getting private school tuition money, everyone should.

“There are those who think that when it comes to parental choice we should just be doing much more across a much broader spectrum.”

While there may be more appetite in the Senate, Norris says the governor’s proposal has the best chance of passing.

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Bullet points from the Haslam Administration:

- Eligible students will have the opportunity to receive a scholarship to attend the private school of their choice.

- Only students whose family income status makes them eligible for free or reduced lunch and who also are zoned to a school among the bottom five percent in terms of student achievement will qualify for the program.

- In order for independent schools to accept scholarship students, they must be approved through a recognized accreditation process, agree to accept the scholarship as payment in full, and require scholarship students to take either the state’s achievement test or a nationally norm-referenced test capable of producing value-added results.

- Other accountability measures include a school’s continued participation in the program being contingent upon student outcomes.

- The program will be capped in terms of overall statewide participation, beginning with an initial cap of 5,000 students in the first year and rising to 7,500 in the second, 10,000 in the third, and 20,000 in the fourth and thereafter.

The voucher amount would depend on the school district. The legislation as drafted says the scholarship would be tied to the Basic Education Plan, which includes state and local money.


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