As Governor Bill Lee’s legislation on Education Savings Accounts is set to be voted on by the full House Education Committee on Wednesday, March 27, the Tennessee Republican Party calls for support of his education plan.
The Tennessee Republican Party (TRP) sent a personalized email Friday saying, “We need your help!”
“Governor Lee and Tennessee’s students are counting on us!”
The TRP said that Governor Lee “has put forward a bold, conservative plan to ensure that every child in Tennessee has access to a high-quality education.”
To help the Governor’s agenda and show support for school choice, the email includes a link to send an automatic email to the respondent’s legislator.
The link connects to page with a heading “Show your support for Education Savings Accounts,” and a quote from Governor Bill Lee, “We’re not going to get big results in our struggling schools by nibbling around the edges. That is why we need Education Savings Accounts in Tennessee, this year.”
The page goes on to explain ESAs:
- Education savings account programs (ESAs) give parents greater opportunity to use their state education dollars to find the best learning environment for their children
- ESAs can be used for school tuition and fees, textbooks, tutoring and special therapies and other approved expenses
- ESAs give parents the freedom and flexibility to truly customize their child’s education
The automated email will be sent the respondent’s House member as well as suspected “No” vote members of the House Education Committee voting on the ESA measure including Terry Lynn Weaver (R-Lancaster), Ryan Williams (R-Cookeville), John Mark Windle (D-Livingston), Kirk Haston (R-Lobelville), Mark Cochran (R-Englewood), Tom Leatherwood (R-Arlington), Scott Cepicky (R-Culleoka), Iris Rudder (R-Winchester), and Chris Hurt (R-Halls) as well as Chairman Mark White (R-Memphis).
The email contains the message:
I am among the 78% of Tennesseans who support the expansion of our state’s Education Savings Account program.
All students deserve access to a quality education that helps them realize their unlimited potential. But for far too many children in Tennessee, the only educational option they have is a failing school.
ESAs give families the freedom to escape failing schools and choose the educational options that fit their children’s unique learning styles.
I implore you to pass an expanded ESA program that will give hope to our students and our great state.
Education reform, including additional choices for parents, was a mainstay of Bill Lee’s campaign platform during the Republican primary and general elections, which he won with nearly 37 percent and 60 percent of the vote, respectively.
Governor Lee’s education agenda aligns with that of President Donald Trump.
Before even being elected as President in 2016, Donald Trump committed to a School Choice and Education Opportunity Act that, among other things, would “redirect education dollars to give parents the right to send their kid to the public, private, charter, magnet, religious or homeschool of their choice.”
Additionally, the national Republican Party Platform adopted in 2016 calls for Choice in Education under the heading of “Great American Families, Education, Healthcare, and Criminal Justice.”
Specifically, the GOP platform states, “We especially support the innovative financing mechanisms that make options available to all children: education savings accounts (ESAs), vouchers, and tuition tax credits.”
The platform elaborates on the human impact, “Empowering families to access the learning environments that will best help their children to realize their full potential is one of the greatest civil rights challenges of our time. A young person’s ability to succeed in school must be based on his or her God-given talent and motivation, not an address, ZIP code, or economic status.”
The Tennessee House of 99 members is comprised of a super majority 73 Republicans.
The House Education Committee of 23 members includes 17 Republicans.
That super majority in the House Education Committee didn’t make the vote on Governor Lee’s charter school commission, arguably less controversial than the ESA measure, any less challenging. After nearly two hours of discussion, it took the support of Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin) to get the legislation over the finish line, as reported by The Tennessee Star.
Meanwhile, the state Senate Education Committee passed the charter school commission legislation unanimously in about 15 minutes.
The ESA legislation will likely see greater opposition than the charter school commission legislation from the state’s teachers union, Tennessee Education Association (TEA), which has issued a “Two Big Fights” call to action, “What you can do NOW to stop radical charter expansion & vouchers.”
The TEA’s main points against HB 0939 / SB 0795 are all financial in nature – debit cards are ripe for fraud and abuse, the income guidelines are too high, subsidizing private school children with taxpayer dollars, the potential dollars cost to local schools, that the Governor has set aside only one-time funds to offset students leaving public schools and that voucher programs, once established, “always grow.”
There was no mention of children or parents and the role that school choice might play for some students in TEAs call for action against ESAs.
– – –
Laura Baigert is a senior reporter at The Tennessee Star.