The Tennessee Senate has approved a school voucher bill allowing lower income students of four counties to receive a voucher equal to half the total funding to attend a school of their choice should they wish to leave their assigned local school.

Via the Commercial Appeal:

The state Senate has approved a school-voucher bill that would allow lower-income students to take some taxpayer funding and transfer to a private, church-related or other independent school that would accept them or to a public school with room.

The vouchers, which would total $5,400 a year in Memphis at first, would be available to students in Shelby, Davidson, Knox and Hamilton counties whose household income qualifies them for free or reduced-price school lunches only.

It also says the state “may not in any way regulate the educational program of a participating nonpublic school that accepts” the money and that “a participating school shall be given the maximum freedom to provide for the educational needs of its students without governmental control.”

Income ceilings for free or reduced-price school lunches: Two-person household: $27,214. Three: $34,281. Four: $41,348. Five: $48,415. Six: $55,482. Seven: $62,549. Eight: $69,616.

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Via the TN Report:

The bill, SB485, would apply only to the state’s four largest counties, including Shelby, Davidson, Hamilton and Knox Counties. It constitutes the state’s first official foray into the realm of school vouchers.

The “Equal Opportunity Scholarship Act” passed Thursday allows low-income students to use public funding to attend private, parochial, charter or different public schools, opening up a larger discussion on school choice.

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Via the City Paper:

Both Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell praised the bill. Ramsey called it “monumental.”

The companion bill in the House remains in a subcommittee, raising questions about whether the measure will become law this session.

House Republican leader Gerald McCormick said, “The scheduling works against it this year. Certainly we want to make sure it’s done right before we push it all the way through. So I don’t know that we’re in an urgent rush to get that done.”

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