NASHVILLE — Critics of a bill that would mandate school voucher programs in Tennessee's four largest public school systems charged Tuesday that the proposal amounts to a government-funded "bailout" for private schools.

"I don't know what you think of the federal government's bailout of the auto industry, the bailout of banks or of Wall Street," Davidson County School Board member Mark North told a legislative subcommittee, "but diverting funds away from public schools to bail out private schools is bad policy."

His comments came as the House Education Subcommittee listened to advocates and opponents of the bill. The measure seeks to create voucher programs in Hamilton, Knox, Davidson and Shelby counties. No votes were taken on the bill, which passed the Republican-run Senate last year but stalled in the House, which Republicans also control.

All four counties' school systems oppose the legislation, which lets low-income students use vouchers to attend private schools. Half the money that the state and local schools now put in for education for students on free or reduced lunch programs — an indicator of poverty — would follow students under the bill.

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