Study of school vouchers needed before legislation, says Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam

Study of school vouchers needed before legislation, says Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam

December 15th, 2011 by Andy Sher in Local - Breaking News

Republican Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam

Photo by Jenna Walker/Times Free Press.

POLL: Should the state give low-income students vouchers to attend private schools?

NASHVILLE - Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey today said he is ready to go ahead this legislative session with legislation mandating a scaled-back version of a bill allowing parents to use taxpayer-funded vouchers to attend private and religious schools.

But later in the day, Gov. Bill Haslam, a fellow Republican, announced formation of a task force that will study the issue. The panel won't report back until the fall of 2012.

Speaking to reporters earlier, Ramsey said he would like to see some form of vouchers, which Republican proponents are calling "equal opportunity scholarships."

"I want to see a form of it pass," Ramsey said, later going on to question why a parent with a child should be "trapped" in a failing school.

In a news release issued later, Haslam said that he supports "school choice options" and believes the vouchers could "be an impactful tool in Tennessee. We should offer alternatives to low-income students and their parents who may feel stuck in failing schools. Charter schools have been a significant part of process, and it is appropriate to explore additional opportunities."

But, Haslam went on to say, "there is still work to be done ... in identifying what an opportunity scholarship program should look like here, and I think those discussions need to happen before legislation is pursued any further in this session.

"First and foremost, any new program must complement our ongoing efforts to reform education," Haslam said.

This year's version of the bill, which passed the Senate and stalled in the House, would have forced implementation of vouchers for low-income students in the state's four largest school systems, including Hamilton County schools.