Tennessee lawmakers to negotiate voucher compromise

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A split between the Tennessee House and Senate on a high-profile school voucher bill has forced both chambers to designate negotiators to seek a compromise.

Lawmakers in both the GOP-controlled House and Senate have repeatedly refused to budge on their differences on the voucher bill — which has become the top issue in this year’s legislative session — after unsuccessfully going back and forth on various amendments.

However, as of Tuesday, lawmakers remained vague about when and where those negotiations would take place after previously promising earlier this year to be more transparent when forming joint panels known as conference committees.

Legislative leaders originally said the conference committee would take place early afternoon Tuesday, but at the time, they said they did not know when or where the meeting would take place when pressed by reporters. Hours later, lawmakers said the conference committee meeting was scheduled Wednesday morning.

The last-minute back and forth comes as the Tennessee General Assembly is ramping up to adjourn this week, raising concerns from some that the key portions of these discussions will take place behind closed doors in an effort to get done quickly.

Gov. Bill Lee and top Republican leaders have deemed passing a voucher-like bill a top priority for Tennessee. Yet the proposal has received criticism from education advocates concerned about public schools losing funding, as well as skepticism from lawmakers unsure if they want the governor’s proposed bill to apply in their legislative districts.

Under 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.

Yet the Senate’s current version conflicts with what House members passed, which includes immigration status verification and applies to the state’s most populated counties.

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