Anti-voucher protest expected at Tennessee capitol Monday

Time is running out on the current session of the Tennessee legislature and several...
Time is running out on the current session of the Tennessee legislature and several controversial bills are still being debated.
Updated: Apr. 29, 2019 at 4:44 AM CDT
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NASHVILLE, TN (WMC) - A school voucher initiative moved one step closer to becoming law, after Tennessee lawmakers approved two plans last week. But opponents of both bills aren’t giving up so easily.

Organizers are calling for people to fill the halls of the Tennessee capitol Monday, in a last-ditch effort to keep the school voucher initiative from becoming law.

State Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, said she wanted 5,000 people to show up to protest.

"Fill balconies at Capitol and those outside the chamber will do chants all through session!" she tweeted.

The House and Senate each passed their own version of the plan last week.

Each bill provides $7,300 vouchers for students to switch from public to private schools.

The Senate plan would make those vouchers available to students in Shelby County Schools, the Achievement School District and Metro Nashville Schools.

The House version includes Knox and Hamilton county schools as well. A Knoxville Republican lawmaker who voted for the bill, State Rep. Jason Zachary, said the House speaker assured him that Knox County would be removed from the legislation before it’s sent to the governor.

Gov. Bill Lee, who made vouchers one of his top priorities, said kids in the targeted districts deserve better.

"Those who are in the lowest-performing schools, who have the lowest income levels and who currently do not have a choice for quality education where they are, and that occurs in the districts we're targeting these bills to," said Lee.

But Memphis Senator Raumesh Akbari said states who've passed similar laws haven't shown any improvement in math and reading scores.

"I've tried to keep an open mind about this but as this program has continued to evolve and been narrowed," said Akbari. "I just don't think it's one that is going to help our community."

Though the votes didn't go their way, groups against school vouchers, like the Tennessee Education Association, aren't giving up.

Because the House and Senate plans differ, lawmakers will have to iron out the differences this week before sending it to the governor.

If the two sides can't reach an immediate agreement, they'll form a conference committee made up of lawmakers from both chambers, who'd work to find a solution.

Protesters hope that gives them enough time to convince lawmakers to change their minds.

“If you’re a praying person, ask your divine entity to change minds and look at the data and facts of these programs instead of looking to the Governor and the rest of the pro-voucher corp,” Brad Fiscus, a member of Pastors for Tennessee Children, said.

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