2015: The year of parental choice in Tennessee?
BY JUSTIN OWEN
The 2015 legislative session has potential to be a watershed year for school choice. The Tennessee Choice & Opportunity Scholarship Act (SB999-HB1049), which Beacon and others have worked tirelessly to advance for three years running, is making its way through key committees. The bill would give thousands of low-income children the opportunity to receive a better education by allowing the money we already spend on those children to follow them to the school of their parents’ choice. After passing the state Senate by a resounding 23-9 margin on Monday night, the bill will next be heard in the House Finance Subcommittee next week. However, opportunity scholarships aren’t the only choice option lawmakers are considering this session. Two other important bills have also received considerable attention, and rightfully so. The first (SB27-HB138) would provide education savings accounts for special needs children. This is very similar to the opportunity scholarship proposal, but it recognizes that special needs children often benefit more from tutoring, therapy, and other educational options. With this proposal, parents of special needs children could have the money we spend on their child deposited into a bank account, allowing them to pay not only for private school tuition, but also those other important services. The bill is up next week in Senate Finance and House Government Operations. Finally, a bill proposed by Gov. Haslam—who has been a forceful advocate for parental choice—is gaining steam. The bill (SB293-HB473) would allow children to enroll in an Achievement School District-run school if seats remain. The ASD takes over failing schools and seeks to turn them into high-performing charter schools. In some cases, there may be open slots in those schools, so why not invite children in need of better options to attend that school? This is a great bill that will complement other choice programs being considered. It’s up for two big votes in House Finance Subcommittee and Senate Finance next week. Legislators have plenty of opportunities to expand quality educational options for Tennessee children this session. Let’s hope they answer the call. -Justin Owen