School voucher debate unlikely on Tennessee’s Capitol Hill this year

(Photo: WKRN)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – As Tennessee state lawmakers get back to work this week, they’ll deal with a lot of K-12 education issues, but this year school vouchers likely will not be one of them.

That’s because one of the major sponsors of what he calls “Opportunity Scholarships” says it’s time for him to move on other ways of dealing with the students in underperforming schools.

“Every other year we have seen that Opportunity Scholarship move forward and last year was the first year it took a step backwards,” said Sen. Brian Kelsey of Shelby County.

The idea from Kelsey and others was that impoverished kids in bottom ranked schools would be given a scholarship or voucher to take to a better public or private school, but there were fears from many lawmakers that it would be improper to use that public money for a private education.

“It’s time for us to listen to the folks and put more and more money and focus in the public education system.” Sen. Kelsey told News 2 Wednesday.

Sen. Brian Kelsey (Photo: WKRN)

Other school voucher bills passed the Senate in recent years, but they did not make it past the Republican-dominated House.

Minority Democrats feel their voice was heard in opposition that garnered support from some of their Republican colleagues.

“Democrats have been unanimously behind blocking the voucher bills,” said House Democrat Caucus Chair Mike Stewart. “I think we have succeeded.”

While moving on from vouchers, Kelsey hopes people remember what the problem is.

“I think we have to do everything we can possibly do to help these impoverished children who are stuck in failing schools year after year,” added the lawmaker.

How exactly to do that remains one of the great questions in many state capitols, including Tennessee.

Lawmakers have upped the state’s K-12 budget in recent years, along with teacher evaluation reform.

Supporters say it’s resulting in better test scores in many areas statewide.