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Education savings account legislation advances

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(The Center Square) – The two versions of Tennessee’s statewide educational savings account proposals advanced in committee late Wednesday and will be heard in another committee next week.

Senate Bill 503 passed the Senate Education Committee with a 7-1 vote and one abstaining while House Bill 1183 passed the House Education Administration Committee 12-7.

The respective bills go to the Senate Finance Ways and Means Committee as soon as Tuesday and House Government Operations Committee as soon as Monday next week.

The Senate vote was on party lines, with Sen. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald, abstaining after stating he is against the portion of the bill that allows students to move to a public school outside of their district.

That provision is unique to the Senate version of the bill and Hensley said he supports parents’ choice of public or private or homeschools but not that provision, saying the two versions of the legislation should be more similar before the Senate Education Committee signed off on it.

“In the first year, yes we can find $140 million,” Hensley said, referring to the bill’s fiscal note. “But after that, when these students are going to all of these other public schools, I just think over the years when we get a lot of students going to other public schools they’re not zoned for that it’s going to be a problem. That whole concept, I don’t like.”

The House version of the bill passed after more than four hours of discussion.

Much of the discussion centered around the details of the bill that make It different from the Senate version.

Rep. Scott Cepicky, R-Culleoka, said the House bill was carefully crafted and he felt that the details within the bill considers feedback the sponsors have received from school district leaders.

A large amendment to the bill from Rep. Bryan Richey, R-Maryville, that included changes such as a kindergarten retention program instead of the current third-grade retention was tabled. Cepicky responded that he believes the third-grade retention legislation was successful as the state had the highest third grade reading scores in 10 years.

“We believe that this is a very good piece of legislation and that every piece of it is important,” Cepicky said.

The added cost of the all-encompassing House bill will be nearly $400,000 annually to state taxpayers while local governments will receive nearly $200,000 additionally each year.

Both proposals estimate that 40% of the scholarships will go to students currently in public school and 60% will go to those currently enrolled in private schools.

If the two bodies do not reach agreement before a vote in the full House and Senate, the bill could end up in conference committee to determine what aspects of each proposal will remain before it potentially goes to Gov. Bill Lee.

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