WREG looks at Shelby County reps’ school voucher votes as bill nears House floor

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- The "Tennessee Choice and Opportunity Scholarship Act," which would create school vouchers in the state, is nearing the House floor.

Tuesday, the House's Finance, Ways and Means Committee narrowly voted, 11-10, to move House Bill 1049 forward.

The bill would give students who meet requirements for free or reduced lunch, and are zoned to attend schools in the bottom five percent, taxpayer-funded scholarships to attend private school. Each scholarship is roughly $7,000.

Wednesday, WREG took a closer look at how Shelby County state representatives voted in committee and what could be next.

Four Shelby County representatives voted in the House's finance committee. Three voted against vouchers, one voted for vouchers.

Democrats Karen Camper, Barbara Cooper, and Larry Miller voted no. They all represent Memphis. Republican Steve McManus, of Cordova, voted yes.

Republican Curry Todd, of Collierville, was not there.

WREG reached out to those who voted. Rep. Cooper agreed to do a phone interview from Nashville. She said she based her decision on her experience as a teacher.

"I hope that enough of our House members can search their hearts and know that we can't afford to leave any child behind," she said.

WREG heard from school voucher supporters earlier this week, who said it is about giving students in underperforming schools more options.

"If they can't get it in their neighborhoods, and they feel that there is a better way of learning, we just want them to have those options available to them," Roxie Nunnally with the Lewis-Help Today Foundation told WREG Monday.

Opponents said the vouchers pull dollars out of public school classrooms.

Cooper argues the idea ignores more poor children than it helps. She believes the kids that will go for the vouchers have access to resources like transportation.

"We offer a voucher for those who have transportation? Those who have the whereabouts, the parents who can get them to a school?" she questioned.

WREG Political Commentator Otis Sanford said he believes the bill has a good chance of clearing the house.

"It's failed in the legislature five times. I think this is the year, probably, they'll get it passed, because there's political will to get it done," he said.

Cooper said she thinks, whichever way the voucher vote goes, it will be tight.

"I think it'll probably be something like last night, slim vote, one way or the other," she said.

The bill is now in the hands of the Calendar and Rules Committee, which is scheduled to meet Tuesday. A staff member for Chairperson Bill Dunn said he plans to bring up the voucher bill at that time. The committee might schedule the bill to go to the House floor next week or the week after.

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