President Trump encourages Tennessee to pass school voucher plan

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A proposed school voucher bill in Tennessee has caught the attention and support of President Donald Trump.

Mr. Trump tweeted Wednesday that Tennessee was close to “passing school choice” and all children “deserve a shot at achieving the American Dream!”

The tweet comes as Republican Gov. Bill Lee is backing voucher-style legislation expanding the amount of taxpayer dollars that can be used to pay for private schools and other expenses.

Under Lee’s proposal, parents of students in certain low-performing school districts could receive up to $7,300 in state funds, but they would need to have incomes below the federal poverty level.

Earlier this month, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos visited Nashville and encouraged lawmakers to back the plan.

The bill narrowly passed the House this week.

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.

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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