Legislation that has already cleared the Tennessee House of Representatives would block local school systems from sending families information on Affordable Health Care enrollment.
Infuriating Democrats and prompting them to question motives, House Bill 2248, pushed by Rep. Glen Casada, R-Franklin, seeks to prevent schools from including information on the nation's new federal health-care law in any school communication -- email or written -- to families of students concerning medical assistance, TennCare or the children's health insurance program.
"Schools need to be focused on education, not handing out literature on ACA," Casada said.
Before the House voted 60-26 last week to approve House Bill 2248, largely along party lines, Casada told members that school-led distribution of Affordable Care Act information is "not done currently, nor would it be done in the future if this bill passes."
But Metro Nashville Public Schools spokeswoman Meredith Libbey said MNPS does share information on the Affordable Care Act to inform families about mental health providers through the district.
In addition, she said some Metro schools have hosted and promoted recent "Get Covered Tennessee" workshops on Saturdays aimed at increasing enrollment in the nation's new health-care program. Though MNPS did not distribute a letter to all families, she said, it's possible schools shared information and tweeted about the events.
Williamson County Schools, on the other hand, says it does not currently distribute information on the health-care law. A spokeswoman for Murfreesboro City Schools said she doesn't believe it does either.
The companion bill in the Senate goes before the Senate Education Committee today. In the House, which approved the bill largely on party lines, the proposal set off a debate on the role of schools.
"I hope we're not trying to prevent children from getting health care just because we're politically against the Affordable Care Act," said House Democratic Caucus chairman Rep. Mike Turner, Old Hickory.
"Absolutely not," Casada countered. "One of several problems with education today is that the schools are not the centers of learning -- they're the centers for everything else. This is just the beginning attempt to make sure schools are focused on reading and writing and arithmetic."
Turner, however, said in some communities schools need to act as community centers, of sorts.
Rep. Sheila Butt, R-Columbia, said she supports the bill, pointing to a pamphlet daughters of one of her constituents received that stated, "We'll take you to your appointment" and ending with the line, "Your parents will never know."
"This is not what should be given out in our schools," Butt said.
Democrats, though, say the bill could have major consequences. "What's going to happen now is principals are going to be terrified now on what they can send and what they can't send," said Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville. "So what was never a burden before is now going to become a burden."