After a three-week stall, a proposal to create a school voucher program in Memphis is on the move again as Tennessee’s legislature winds down its committee work.
Members of the House Government and Operations panel voted Wednesday to advance the bill to the chamber’s finance committee but gave only a neutral recommendation. The Government and Operations committee cannot kill a bill — only decide how to recommend — and voucher opponents had delayed action there for three weeks.
The measure is still at least two committee votes and two floor votes away from passage and has not yet been scheduled in the finance panel of the Senate, where vouchers have been passed three times since 2011. The path has been tougher in the House, where a proposal was pulled last year before a floor vote.
This year, supporters are optimistic that moving from a statewide bill to a pilot program in Memphis will garner support from legislators elsewhere in the state. Their constituents previously have voiced concerns that vouchers would siphon off students and funding from local traditional schools, and that students who accept vouchers would attend low-quality, unregulated private schools.
Supporters argue that giving Memphians more choices will rescue children trapped in “failing schools.”
Memphis has the state’s highest concentration of lowest-performing schools but, in the last decade, has seen significant headway through various programs.