A Tennessee lawmaker filed a bill for introduction that would seek to repeal a recently enacted school voucher program in the state.
Tennessee House Rep. Bo Mitchell (D-Nashville) filed HB 1550 for introduction on Aug. 21, which if passed would 'delete' the Tennessee Education Savings Account Program that was signed into law in May.
Gov. Bill Lee has championed the program since before he was elected, which narrowly passed last session and will launch during the 2021/2022 school year. It is described as a 'voucher-style' program that diverts tax dollars to give participating families up to $7,300 a year to pay for private school tuition and other expenses.
Supporters said the law provides more school choice for parents. Opponents said they fear the vouchers would take money from public schools, and some private schools worried accepting such vouchers would compromise their independence in the long run.
The bill passed following a dramatic turn in the House in April 2019 after Rep. Jason Zachary (R-Knoxville) suddenly switched his vote during a 49-49 split tally.
The Associated Press reported Zachary later said he eventually agreed to the change because now-resigned House speaker Glen Casada promised him the final version of the voucher bill would exempt his elected home seat of Knox County from being able to distribute education savings accounts.
The amended law ultimately applies to only the state's largest school districts in Nashville and Shelby County.
Zachary and other lawmakers were initially against the bill and wanted their home counties exempted from the program in fear local public schools would receive fewer public dollars once the voucher program took effect.
Casada denied any claims his office had exchanged favors for ESA votes. According to the AP, the last-minute switch was secured behind closed doors on a House patio, where reporters could not go, with Casada, Zachary and other aides and lawmakers.
The Tennessee General Assembly will convene again for its 2020 regular session on Tuesday, Jan. 14.