Yesterday Governor Bill Lee’s controversial “Education Savings Accounts” aka School Vouchers legislation hit the house floor for a debate and a vote.
Watch the HIGHLIGHTS:
Proponents of vouchers say they will be a lifeline for some students in failing schools.
Opponents say they will leave the rest of the kids behind, and steer resources away from public schools towards private schools, and point to the absence of evidence that vouchers work as reason enough that they’re a bad idea, instead encouraging Tennessee to fully fund public education for a change.
We were 44th in ed funding in 2010 — and we are 45th now — our legislators have FAILED our schools. Year after year after year
— TN Education Report (@TNEdReport) April 23, 2019
It’s no secret that private school education lobbyists have been circling this legislation for a long time, and have spent lots of money in support of it. Even Secretary of Education Betsy Devos – who has said her agenda is to “Advance God’s Kingdom” through the privatization of education – came to Nashville last month to show her support for Governor Lee’s efforts.
On the other side is the Tennessee Education Association, many school boards throughout the state, and most teachers.
Governor Lee has made it clear this is his main priority this session, even going so far as to attempt to strong-arm legislators who have expressed opposition by threatening not to steer resources to their districts and making it clear a vote against would mean a difficult road to re-election while essentially bribing rural legislators with grants while reassuring them vouchers won’t come to their communities.
Speaker Glen Casada has been intimately involved with those efforts as well, as has Senator Jack Johnson, who made it clear he doesn’t want them in Williamson County either.
Debate on the floor lasted the better part of 2 hours, with Republicans rising in support, and both Democrats and Republicans rising in opposition.
Rep. Antonio Parkinson and others made it clear almost all Shelby County reps were against the legislation, and all Nashville Reps to speak made it clear they were against it also, yet the vouchers are mainly targeted at their counties, something all of them agreed was unfair.
Their refrain is that if other legislators don’t want them in their own counties, they shouldn’t want them for kids in their counties either. It stands to reason that if your reasoning for voting FOR something is that you’ve been reassured it won’t hurt your county, that isn’t a great reason to “do unto others” what you wouldn’t have done unto you.
Rep. Joe Towns Jr. expressed concern the legislation would create two “separate and unequal” school systems, “re-segregating” education in Tennessee, while Rep. Camper warned that vouchers would spread, and Rep. Johnny Shaw insisted they wouldn’t fix any of the problems in Tennessee education – problems which even Republican legislators who were in favor of vouchers agreed were not as bad as they had been in past years, with Tennessee now the most-improving state in the country.
Rep. Matthew Hill stood to tell his colleagues that even the Tennessee State Employees Association was in favor of the bill, but that turns out not to be the case, which is ironic considering Hill lamented the circulation of false information in the same breath.
TSEA @tsea does not have a position on the Education Savings Act currently being debated in the #TN House. Earlier today I did communicate to some legislators that those that have stood with state employees will have TSEA support regardless of how a legislator votes on ESA bill.
— Randy Stamps (@randystamps) April 23, 2019
When it came time to vote it was a deadlocked 49-49 tie, which appeared to take Speaker Casada by surprise. He held the vote open for 30 minutes while he did some arm-twisting out of the view of the public, something most seasoned reporters said they hadn’t seen in their entire time covering the legislature.
In the four years I’ve covered @TNHouseReps, I’ve never seen a vote held like this where there are votes on the board but it has not become official
— Joel Ebert (@joelebert29) April 23, 2019
Rep. John Deberry Jr. of Memphis was the only Democrat to join Republicans in favor of vouchers, and Republicans are now rewarding him by running ads for him in his district.
Tennessee Republicans are now running ads in support of Rep. Deberry, the one *Democrat* who voted for vouchers, supported the Heartbeat bill, and thinks racial discrimination is a myth.
Memphis, you know what to do. pic.twitter.com/lsDEktUBcy
— The Tennessee Holler (@TheTNHoller) April 24, 2019
Rep. Brandon Ogles (Williamson), Rep. Clay Doggett (Lawrence/Giles), and Rep. Chris Hurt (Lauderdale/Crockett/Haywood) were 3 Republicans who had campaigned as being anti-vouchers, but voted in favor of the legislation.
It was Rep. Jason Zachary however who cast the deciding vote, flipping from a “NO” to a “YES” to give Casada the 50-48 win he was looking for.
After the vote, Zachary said it was assurances Knox County wouldn’t be affected by the Vouchers, that they would be “held fiscally harmless”, and that they had been guaranteed resources for teacher raises and other such things – something he then appeared to walk back moments later. (The Holler has been told the promises to Zachary amounted to $5 Million to his local school district, something we’ll be looking into…also, the bill he voted for included Knox County).
Update on my ESA vote….
Knox County is out, held fiscally harmless and our teachers get their raises! pic.twitter.com/K583kzdE5u
— Rep. Jason Zachary (@JasonZacharyTN) April 23, 2019
(It’s also worth noting his wife appears to work at a Christian school.)
The Senate version of the bill still has a vote pending, and since the house bill and the senate bill are different this battle is far from over. Here are the key differences.
If you think the way to fix public education in Tennessee is NOT to steer resources away from public schools, holler at your legislators and let them know to stand strong for public schools.
HOW THEY VOTED:
Representatives voting aye were: Baum, Boyd, Carter, Cepicky, Crawford, Curcio, Daniel, DEBERRY, DOGGETT, Dunn, Eldridge, Faison, Farmer, Garrett, Hall, Helton, Hill M, Hill T, Holt, Howell, Hulsey, HURT, Johnson C, Kumar, Lafferty, Lamberth, Leatherwood, Littleton, Lynn, Marsh, Moon, OGLES, Powers, Ragan, Reedy, Rudd, Rudder, Sanderson, Sexton J, Sherrell, Smith, Sparks, Terry, Tillis, Todd, Van Huss, White, Williams, ZACHARY, Mr. Speaker Casada — 50.
Representatives voting no were: Beck, Bricken, Byrd, Calfee, Camper, Carr, Chism, Clemmons, Cochran, Coley, Cooper, Dixie, Freeman, Gant, Griffey, Hakeem, Halford, Hardaway, Haston, Hawk, Hazlewood, Hicks, Hodges, Holsclaw, Jernigan, Johnson G, Keisling, Lamar, Love, Miller, Mitchell, Parkinson, Potts, Powell, Ramsey, Russell, Sexton C, Shaw, Staples, Stewart, Thompson, Towns, Travis, Vaughan, Weaver, Whitson, Windle, Wright — 48.
You should see the massive property tax increases in his rural county as the voucher program expands…which it will every single year!
— Gloria Johnson (@VoteGloriaJ) April 24, 2019
I am a graduate of the @jcityTNschools. The fact that @hillrep and Rep. Van Huss cannot see the value public education adds for all Tennesseans shows how out of touch the @TNGOP is. #Vouchers are not the answer. #tnleg pic.twitter.com/ZLnIekRylt
— Kate Craig (@KateCraigTN) April 24, 2019
If you live in TN14 remember this betrayal in 2020. It is time to vote out the weak politicians who make backroom deals instead of someone who will stand up and fight for their constituents. #VoteThemAllOut #NoVouchers #GoodPublicEducation
— Lynda Weaver ? (@lbweaver) April 23, 2019
If he really believed that the intent of the bill was to help students then why would he want to exclude his own district from this help? They are tacitly admitting that this does not help students
— Mulatto (@quicksilver99) April 23, 2019
Sad day for Tennessee https://t.co/Gz2J3XP8WU
— Bo Mitchell (@VoteBo) April 23, 2019