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Lee administration, Casada lobbying for education savings account plan

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Gov. Bill Lee gives his first State of the State address before a joint session of the Tennessee General Assembly
Nashville Tennessean

With Gov. Bill Lee’s controversial education savings account legislation set to be taken up in a key House committee Wednesday, several members are being lobbied by the administration, the House speaker and interest groups for their support. 

In a potential sign of how close a vote may be, Lee administration officials and House Speaker Glen Casada have spent several days making appeals to members on the House Education Committee, according to lawmakers. 

On Tuesday afternoon, several lawmakers on the 23-member committee entered Casada’s office to discuss the legislation, which supporters say would provide parents with more options.

The legislation would provide public money to parents so they could choose other educational options, such as private school.

Opponents argue the education savings account program is merely a new form of a vouchers bill that would be similar to efforts in other states that have experienced problems, including fraud and waste. 

► Education savings accounts: What you need to know about the plan

Lawmakers: Casada moves to sway votes

Some lawmakers directly involved in the discussions told the USA TODAY NETWORK – Tennessee that, in an effort to sway votes, Casada made overtures to support members’ legislation or district initiatives.

Such moves, while not surprising or unprecedented as legislation moves through the General Assembly, indicate the importance of Wednesday’s committee meeting.

Others working to sway members to support the ESA bill include Tennessee Federation for Children, which recently encouraged the public on Twitter to contact Rep. Charlie Baum, R-Murfreesboro, who sits on the education committee. 

Complicating matters further, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which advocates for halting legal and illegal immigration in the United States, has said the governor’s education savings account bill would provide money to students who aren’t in the country legally.

Amendments made to bill

Last week, when the bill was first taken up in committee, several lawmakers, including Baum, raised questions about the current version of the bill. Although the committee ultimately passed the measure, it could face similar questions Wednesday. 

With that in mind, the governor’s office will be amending the measure.

A copy of the latest amendment obtained by the USA TODAY NETWORK – Tennessee indicates several changes.

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They include removing home-schooled students from being able to enroll in the program and a requirement for a report to be produced after the first fiscal year about the program. The earlier version of the legislation required such a report to be produced after the third year. 

“Gov. Lee’s school choice agenda is a top priority and he is committed to working closely with legislative colleagues to ensure that every student in Tennessee has access to a high-quality education,” Lee spokeswoman Laine Arnold said. “The governor values and commends legislators’ commitment to service and looks forward to a highly collaborative relationship as we build solutions for Tennessee.”

A spokesman for Casada did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The House Education Committee is scheduled to meet Wednesday at 8 a.m. CDT. 

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Reach Joel Ebert at [email protected] or 615-772-1681 and on Twitter @joelebert29.

Read or Share this story: https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/politics/2019/03/26/tennessee-education-savings-account-house-committee/3281815002/



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