Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Unable to Control Republican Education Radicals, Haslam Yanks Voucher Bill

Posted By on Wed, Apr 3, 2013 at 4:55 PM

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Gov. Bill Haslam withdrew his school voucher bill today rather than watch helplessly as Senate Republicans expanded it to cover many more children. The governor made the decision after conferring with Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, who acknowledged his inability to control Republicans on the Senate Education Committee. Norris told reporters:

We will not proceed to present the governor's bill on Opportunity Scholarships, a.k.a. vouchers, this year, not the first half of this session. There were members of the Education Committee who sought to transform the bill to a vehicle of their making, which was not in keeping with what the governor thinks is appropriate for a program of this importance just getting under way at this time. He wants a more measured approach to introducing vouchers to the state of Tennessee and did not want it to become a political football at the expense of the children who his initiative is designed to serve.

Haslam wanted to give vouchers only to low-income children in failing schools. All this session, he delayed votes on his bill in the Senate while he tried to persuade some Republicans—led by Sens. Brian Kelsey and Dolores Gresham, the Education Committee chair—not to expand his program. But Gresham and Kelsey wanted the program to apply to the children of families earning as much as $75,000 a year. As many as 10,000 vouchers could have gone out next fall under that plan, dwarfing Haslam's bill.

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey was among the Republicans who backed expanding Haslam's bill. Conceivably, they still could resurrect vouchers through another bill. But the Education Committee closed for business a few minutes ago for the year, and the session is supposed to end in two weeks.

Rich Republicans from outside Tennessee dropped a ton of money into this state this session to promote vouchers. The American Federation for Children funded an $800,000 TV and radio ad campaign to pressure the legislature to expand Haslam's bill.

More from Norris:

As majority leader, I tried to give as much time as possible for reason to prevail. Rather than fewer amendments, we received word that there would be more amendments, all of which attempted to broaden the governor's initiative beyond what he feels is appropriate. So it was counterproductive. We were moving in the wrong direction rather than in the right direction. There were sort of too much brinksmanship among the proponents of amendments.

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