TN Senate passes school voucher bill, excludes Hamilton and Knox Counties
After much debate, state senators in Tennessee passed Senate Bill 795, which would fund scholarships to private schools for high-performing students in priority schools in Nashville and Memphis.
The debate over the pilot program came to an end in a 20-13 vote. It also came with a few changes to the House of Representatives version of the bill.
"I needed two concessions from Governor Lee and that was that Hamilton County be excluded and that it not be a citizenship based qualification but an income-based qualification," State Senator Todd Gardenhire told Channel 3.
The District 10 Senator says he wanted Hamilton County off the list to avoid interfering with the district's plans for its priority schools.
"I wanted Hamilton County to be excluded so that there would be no interpretation of interference that would cause them or give them an excuse of pass or fail," he explained.
Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Dr. Bryan Johnson told Channel 3 the district's performance compared to previous years has shown improvement They just want the opportunity to continue pushing forward.
"For the first time since 2013-14, we met the state expectation for student academic achievement, graduation rates are the highest they've been since 2012-13; we've brought in over $2 million in branded partnerships," Johnson said.
State Senator Bo Watson was one of the other lawmakers from Hamilton County who helped change the bill to exclude Hamilton County. However, Watson says a separate grant from the bill would eventually be available to schools across the state.
"The school improvement fund that has been created by the bill would go to create grants to any school identified as on the priority school list in 2021 and any year thereafter," he said during Thursday morning's legislative session.
Johnson hopes Hamilton County Schools can turn its priority list schools around in the next few years.
The next step for the bill is going to a conference committee between the House and Senate to come to an agreement on the changes.
The bill has Governor Bill Lee's unofficial stamp of approval. Lee tweeted Thursday commending lawmakers who led the effort.