A proposal that would let voters legalize sports betting to help fund local schools and infrastructure is among a dozen education-related bills filed in the first week of Tennessee’s 2019 legislative session.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Rick Staples of Knoxville and Sen. Raumesh Akbari of Memphis, would impose a 10 percent tax on such wagers if voters approve it for their communities. Of that revenue, local governments would get 30 percent to help pay for education and infrastructure needs, while another 30 percent would go to community and technology colleges to fund equipment and capital expenses. The rest would go to the state’s general fund.

“We are giving away money that could go toward education in Tennessee to Arkansas, Mississippi, and Kentucky,” said Akbari, a Democrat, explaining her co-sponsorship of the bill.

Especially in Memphis, where gambling is legal across several borders, revenue from sports betting “could have a tremendous impact on our infrastructure development and our education and capital improvements,” she continued.

Sen. Brian Kelsey, a Republican from Germantown, is working on similar legislation.

Sports betting received a boost in December when Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery issued an opinion saying the legislature “may legalize the contest solely through legislative action without a constitutional amendment,” as long as the wagering is based on skill and not predominantly on chance.

“We are not talking about high school betting,” Akbari told Chalkbeat. “We’re talking about college, professional, and fantasy sports. … We just have to make sure it’s tight enough so that it’s not opening Tennessee up to having casinos everywhere and gambling in places where people don’t feel is appropriate.”

Akbari said discussion on the proposal is in its infancy, but added: “We all know that our schools need additional funding. We have a backlog of capital improvement needs.”

In other legislation filed this week, here are some bills that caught our eye.

HB0018, the first voucher-related bill of the year, sponsored by Rep. Jay Reedy, R-Erin

Reedy wants the state to expand eligibility for its voucher-like program for students with certain disabilities. The 3-year-old Individualized Education Account program provides up to $6,000 annually to their families to pay for educational services if they waive their federal right to a “free and appropriate” public education. Currently, families can apply only if their student is enrolled in public schools. Reedy wants students who are already in private or home schools to be eligible to participate.

SB0019, on voting to retain locally appointed school superintendents, by Sen. Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville

The bill would let city or county governing bodies require an election to retain a local school superintendent. It also would prohibit a school board from extending a superintendent’s contract if the majority of voters oppose retention.

“It speaks to local control,” Gresham said. “For as long as I’ve been in the legislature, people have brought bills to elect superintendents. I don’t believe in that, but this is an option for local governments, and we’ll see where it takes us.”

HB0019, on local school board eligibility, by Rep. Jay Reedy, R-Erin

The proposal would disqualify relatives of a school superintendent, school board member, or central office staff from serving on a local school board.  

You can follow education bills as they are filed here.