‘Political Gamesmanship’ Buries Tennessee Voucher Bill

After threatening to bury Governor Bill Haslam's bill that would bring vouchers to Tennessee earlier this week, its Republican sponsor Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris made good on his promise and said that the measure won't be brought to a vote this session. Norris gave "political gamesmanship" as the reason for his action.

In a letter to the Senate Finance Committee chairwoman, Norris placed a hold on the bill and said that he did not want to see it advance out of the committee. The bill would have limited the number of vouchers available in the state to 5,000 until the year 2016, and would have increased the limit to 20,000 thereafter.

Although vouchers enjoy broad support in the state, the measure drew controversy after attempts were made by other lawmakers to amend it in order to eliminate the voucher limit entirely. Haslam along with Norris have said all along that they will resist any attempt to meddle with the proposal as written.

"There's no more time for any more gamesmanship," the Collierville Republican said. "The governor has said from the beginning that he isn't about that. He designed what he thought fit with his education reforms very specifically and wanted to proceed accordingly, and not to play games with it, not to see it become a political football."

Norris said he received several amendments to Haslam's bill on Wednesday, but he said most of them were "more about the adults than the kids."

"In other words, it was more about … politics than education," he said.

According to spokeswoman for the Tennessee Federation of Children Kimberly Kump, one of the rejected amendments sought to forge a compromise by limiting the voucher program to schools in Memphis and Shelby counties. This was done in response to expert testimony that limiting voucher programs only to low-performing schools would render them ineffective.

Kemp expressed disappointment that even such minor alteration in the measure was considered a step too far and resulted in short-circuiting the bill in its entirety.

A separate bill for a more expansive voucher program was withdrawn earlier this session, though supporters have said they wanted to amend the governor's proposal to cover more students.

Before it was withdrawn, the rival measure would have increased the income limit for eligibility from about $43,000 to $75,000 for a family of four, and would have set no limit on growth.

One of the sponsors of that bill, Sen. Dolores Gresham, told reporters after announcing Norris' decision to the committee that she was just "fighting for children to have better educational opportunities."

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