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School voucher bill that narrowly passed House facing Senate vote Thursday

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A controversial bill giving parents public money for private schools is on its way to the Tennessee Senate after passing the House 50-48 Tuesday, but it has hit a snag.

The bill affects all taxpayers but is only applied to a few areas, which includes Shelby County. It allows parents to receive public funds to pay for private schools.

At first, the votes in the House were tied, until state Rep. Jason Zachary (R-Knoxville) changed his vote from no to yes. He later said he agreed to the change because the House Speaker told him the final version would leave his county, Knox County, out.

“If it helps five kids, 10 kids, 12 kids, it’s worth the challenge," Rep. Mark White (R-Memphis) said.

Those in favor of the bill said it adds an innovative option for children who are being failed by the public school system.

“Let us support this bill and help the children who have the promise and the need better education," Rep. Sabi 'Doc' Kumar (R-Springfield) said.

But those against it claim it’s going to strip public schools of needed funding and is not fiscally responsible.

“We believe firmly this is a bad piece of legislation for multiple reasons," Rep. Jason Powell (D-Nashville) said.

The bill passed in the house would affect Shelby, Knox, Davidson and Hamilton Counties, but the version Senators have advocated for only applies to Shelby and Davidson counties.

State Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) is a co-sponsor of the bill.

“Our students in Memphis and Nashville desperately need more chances to have a quality education, and I’m so glad the governor cares deeply enough to put forward this bill," Kelsey said.

Kelsey said it won’t have a negative effect on public schools, as the governor is putting millions of more dollars into them.

“So that’s not the issue," Kelsey said. "The issue is what can we do to give these impoverished children who desperately need help more options, and this will give them more options.”

Others argue the bill is going to kick down students already struggling.

The Senate votes on the voucher bill Thursday. If approved, the House and Senate will have to work out the differences in the two versions before adjourning for the year.

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