The Beacon Center of Tennessee, a research and advocacy group supporting the bill, said the opposition resorted to unseemly tactics. “It is one thing to be against this bill, but it is another to completely lie to the public about what is in the bill,” said CEO Justin Owen. “The teachers union and other pro-union groups have intentionally deceived the public and legislature so that they can maintain their monopoly on the education system. We will continue to fight for underprivileged children and families because the Beacon Center doesn’t believe they deserve a second rate education because of where they live.”
Tennessee’s underprivileged students were left with a little less hope on Thursday as a school voucher bill was pulled from consideration at the state House of Representatives. The sponsor of the legislation, Rep. Bill Dunn, told Choice Media he withdrew it after determining it was two votes shy of the 50 needed for passage. With so much more in front of the Tennessee Legislature, Representative Dunn said he had no immediate plans to reintroduce the bill this legislative session, barring unforeseen changes.
Dunn attributed the difficulty in passing the bill so far to the composition of the constituencies, for and against it. “They just used enough scare tactics to get their side fired up. As you know adults can vote and adults can give money, but kids in failing schools don’t have political clout.”
Faith Leaders from Memphis and Nashville Demand School Vouchers for Their Community Children, Photo Credit: Tennessee Black Alliance for Educational Options
While there was some attention given to building grass roots support for the bill, those efforts were limited. Mendell Grinter, the Tennessee Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO) state director, organized both rallies and legislator meetings in support of the voucher initiative, but acknowledged that more could have been done. He also expressed particular disappointment at legislators from Memphis, whose constituents would have had the most to gain from additional educational options. “We spent a lot of time talking to Shelby County Legislators… and to see their reluctance to do everything in their power to make sure kids get a great education is just appalling.”
Rally at Word of Faith Christian Center and Academy, Photo Credit: Tennessee Black Alliance for Educational Options
The bill, if passed, would further expand school choice in Tennessee. Last year, Governor Bill Haslam signed a separate bill, the Individualized Education Act, giving parents of special needs students more educational options. This education savings accounts program is set to begin in January 2017. The program has recently come under scrutiny from parents whose children are already in private school. In order to be eligible, students must attend a public school for at least two semesters, thus making special needs students already enrolled in private schools ineligible.