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Tennessee Senate passes school voucher plan limited to Shelby County, Nashville

Tennessee senators vote on a school voucher proposal Thursday.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Tennessee Senate on Thursday advanced Gov. Bill Lee’s school voucher-like proposal, but the details are different than what the House passed earlier this week.

Under Gov. Bill Lee’s proposal, parents of students in certain low-performing school districts could receive up to $7,300 in state funds to spend on private school tuition and other approved expenses, but they would need to meet certain income requirements.

The Senate on Thursday advanced legislation limiting Gov. Bill Lee’s voucher program to just the metro Nashville area and Shelby County, which includes Memphis.

The Senate’s version conflicts with what House members passed earlier this week, which includes immigration status verification and applies to the state’s top four most populated counties.

That means the two chambers will form a joint panel known as a “conference committee” to find a solution.

State Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown), a co-sponsor of the Senate bill, said he was pleased with Thursday’s vote. Kelsey said he attended a private school on scholarship and wanted other students to have the same opportunity.

“I applaud Governor Bill Lee, the House, and now the Senate for giving thousands of low-income children the chance to receive the quality education they deserve,” Kelsey said.

Other lawmakers from Shelby County, however, expressed regret over the advancement of a voucher policy in the state.

“Not only do vouchers take money out of public schools, but study after study shows that kids who accept vouchers perform worse than their peers,” State Sen. Sara Kyle (D-Memphis) said in a statement. “By passing this voucher plan, I am deeply concerned student achievement will drop among our most vulnerable kids.”

President Donald Trump has weighed in, encouraging the state to pass school voucher legislation.

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