A vote on the ongoing education savings account issue was deadlocked in the House Tuesday, until Knoxville Representative Jason Zachary agreed to switch his no vote to a yes. In return, Zachary was promised an exemption for his constituents. The measure eventually passed 50-48.
The voucher-style program would allow up to $7,300 in tax dollars to pay for private-school tuition and expenses for students whose families live in districts with substandard schools.
Zachary said he agreed to change his vote because House Speaker Glen Casada promised him the final version of the bill would exempt Knox County from ESA distributions
Still, the version that passed Tuesday includes Knox County and three other counties that want out. GOP leaders say they need to tinker with the Senate version – which currently only applies to Metro Nashville and Shelby County, and would make certain homeschooling families eligible for funding.
The House and Senate will likely need to negotiate a compromise before they adjourn for the year.
Expansion of the voucher program in the state has faced opposition from lawmakers in the past; but with a crop of new lawmakers receptive to the idea – and the election of Governor Bill Lee, who campaigned on support for school choice – passage of what some lawmakers call “the administration’s most important bill of the session” seems likely.
Five states, including Tennessee, already permit some form of education savings account; the other four are Arizona, Florida, Mississippi and North Carolina. Tennessee’s existing program is limited; in it, parents of students with certain disabilities may take their children out of public school and receive up to $6,000 to fund private school services.