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Tennessee’s universal school voucher bill stalls as chambers negotiate vastly different proposals

Time is of the essence for lawmakers championing universal private school vouchers. Committees in both the state House and Senate this week put off considering proposals that would bring vouchers to families across Tennessee.

Negotiations to close the wide gap between each chamber’s voucher bill continue. But legislators are preparing to wrap up session in the coming weeks.

Both versions of the bill would offer about $7,000 for each participating student to put toward the costs of attending private school, with no income limits. Proponents say vouchers will give families more say in where their children attend school. Neither version would make students take the state standardized TCAP test, like participants in a current voucher pilot are required to. Students in that voucher program scored significantly lower than their public school peers.

The Senate version focuses more narrowly on using public funds to pay the costs of attending private school or a school outside a student’s home district. Meanwhile, the House version is sweeping. The bulk of it focuses on public education reforms that sponsors say public school workers have been demanding for years. Democrats have said the House bill attempts to “buy votes” for vouchers.

You can find more details on each chamber’s proposal here.

If the two chambers can’t agree on a unified proposal by the time they reach the floor, the bills would go to a conference committee. There, lawmakers from each chamber would finish hammering out the differences, before sending it back to the House and Senate for a final vote.

Alexis Marshall is WPLN News’s education reporter. She is a Middle Tennessee native and started listening to WPLN as a high schooler in Murfreesboro. She got her start in public radio freelance producing for NPR and reporting at WMOT, the on-campus station at MTSU. She was the reporting intern at WPLN News in the fall of 2018 and afterward an intern on NPR’s Education Desk. Alexis returned to WPLN in 2020 as a newscast producer and took over the education beat in 2022. Marshall contributes regularly to WPLN's partnership with Nashville Noticias, a Spanish language news program, and studies Arabic. When she's not reporting, you can find her cooking, crocheting or foraging for mushrooms.
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