NASHVILLE - A Republican-backed school voucher program for low-income students in the state's four largest counties, including Hamilton, is dead for the year.
The House version of the bill, which passed the Senate last week, was sent Wednesday to a summer study committee this afternoon by House Education Subcommittee members, a move that effectively kills it.
A short while earlier, the bill's sponsor, Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, had finished outlining elements of the measure, which is opposed by all five large school systems, including Hamilton County's.
Then, House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, entered the hearing room and quietly asked the chairman of the full Education Committee, Rep. Richard Montgomery, R-Sevierville, to call for a recess.
Members agreed and Republicans in the GOP-controlled committee left the room. After they were gone, a Democrat smiled and made a gesture of an arm getting twisted.
The Republicans later returned and Dunn said "there is a lot of interest" on the bill and he was ready to answer questions or "however you want to direct this piece of legislation."
Rep. Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland, called the bill a "very important piece of legislation. I do think it is a very important thing that we need to take a long look at."
He moved to send it to a summer study committee, saying it needs to be looked at "properly."
Montgomery seconded the motion, noting the GOP-run General Assembly has already "made an extreme amount of changes in education. I'm not sure really personally myself what impact doing this has on the local education agency."
Speaking later, McCormick said no arm twisting was involved.
"It'd be more accurate to say counted votes," McCormick said. "I think it kind of caught me by surprise a little bit how far the bill had gone [in discussion]... and I wanted to make sure that when we do that kind of a program, we do it right - we do it slow and careful."
For complete details, see tomorrow's Times Free Press.