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Three influential state senators have put together a new plan to create Tennessee's first school voucher program, but Gov. Bill Haslam says he intends to hold firm to his proposal to limit vouchers to needy students in the state's worst schools.

Sen. Brian Kelsey, a Germantown Republican and a longtime proponent of vouchers, filed a measure Thursday that would offer vouchers to the families of poor and working-class students in Shelby, Davidson and eight other counties.

Supporters, who include Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, and Senate Education Committee Chair Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, tout the proposal as a compromise measure meant to break the impasse that sank voucher legislation in the Senate last year.

But Haslam voiced skepticism to reporters Thursday.

"We like the bill we proposed. We proposed it for a very specific reason," he said. "When Sen. Kelsey told me he was going to file that, I said, 'That's your right. You guys pursue that and see what you can get done.' "

With Senate Bill 2025, Kelsey and his co-sponsors have dropped many of the demands they made last spring, when they wanted to make more vouchers available.

This year, they have proposed legislation that closely mirrors Haslam's plan. Like Haslam, they call for offering 5,000 vouchers in the first year, eventually ramping up to 20,000.

The plans also share a preference for students enrolled in low-performing schools. But Haslam's measure would offer vouchers only to students who are zoned for or attend schools in the bottom 5 percent. The Senate proposal opens it to students in the bottom 10 percent.

The Senate plan also has a provision to distribute vouchers to other families if any are left.

Kelsey, Gresham and Ramsey all represent areas where families would qualify for vouchers under their proposal but not Haslam's.

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