Unable to agree on Gov. Bill Lee’s education voucher proposal, leaders of Tennessee’s General Assembly sent two widely divergent bills Tuesday to legislative talks to try to reach a consensus.
But the 10 conference committee members charged with sorting through the details have their work cut out for them as the legislature tries to wrap up its session this week. Awaiting the negotiators are big disagreements between the House and the Senate on the Republican governor’s proposal to create education savings accounts, a newer type of voucher that would let some students use taxpayer money to pay for private school or related education services.
Here is a final breakdown of the issues they’ll work through. If a compromise is reached, that version will head to each chamber for a vote.
Affected school districts
- Senate: Districts in Memphis and Nashville — specifically Shelby County Schools, Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools, and the Achievement School District
- House: Districts in Memphis, Nashville, Knoxville, and Chattanooga — specifically Shelby County Schools, Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools, Hamilton County Schools, Knox County Schools, and the Achievement School District
- Senate: Up to 5,000 students in first year, 7,500 students in second year, and a maximum of 15,000 in third year
- House: Up to 5,000 students in first year, 7,500 in second year, 10,000 in third year, 12,500 in fourth year, and a maximum of 15,000 in fifth year
- Senate: ESA recipients must verify that family household income does not exceed twice the federal income guidelines for free lunch (about $65,250 for a family of four) by providing pay stubs, W-2 forms, or income tax returns. Re-verification occurs every three years.
- House: ESA recipients must provide the state education department with one of the following documents: driver’s license or photo ID, birth certificate, passport, certificate of citizenship or naturalization, U.S. citizen ID card, or alien registration document or proof of current immigration registration.
- Senate: Included
- House: Not included. ESA recipients must enroll in a private school.
- Senate: Private school tuition, textbooks, tutoring, homeschool curriculum, transportation fees, early postsecondary courses, college admission tests, computer hardware and technological devices, school uniforms, summer education programs, college tuition and fees, college textbooks, educational therapy, management fees.
- House: All of the above except for homeschool curriculum
- Senate: Grades 3-11 must take annual state assessments in math and English language arts.
- House: In addition to the above tests, grades 3-11 must take a state science assessment in even-numbered years and a social studies assessment in odd-numbered years.
- Senate: No restrictions
- House: ESA recipients are ineligible to participate in a sport for the first year they attend a private school if they played the sport at a public school the previous year and they have not moved out of their district.
- Senate: Reports about the program must include the total number of participating students, overall testing performance, and overall graduation outcomes. The state education department must publish a student achievement growth score for each participating private school.
- House: All of the above except for the student achievement growth score, which the state would not have to report for each participating private school
Funding reimbursements to districts
- Senate: Districts affected by the program will receive state reimbursements from a school improvement fund for the first three years. The reimbursements will equal the amounts distributed to each ESA recipient from their district. In the fourth year, the state will switch to school improvement grants to support priority schools in the state’s bottom 5%.
- House: Districts affected will receive state reimbursements from a school improvement fund equal to the following: first year, 75% of the ESA amount; second year, 50% of ESA amount; third year, 25% of ESA amount. The balance of each year’s percentages will be distributed to districts with priority schools but whose students are not eligible for the voucher program.
You can follow the bill’s progression here.