Tennessee Lawmaker Withdraws School Choice Bill

Published March 23, 2016

A Tennessee lawmaker withdrew a proposed bill that would have provided school choice scholarships to students in low-income households after lobbyists working for a teachers union successfully waged a prominent opposition campaign, which had eroded support for the legislation.

State Rep. Bill Dunn (R-Knoxville) withdrew House Bill 149 in February. Lobbyists had claimed publicly the proposal would apply to the entire state, despite language contained in the bill that limited it to a single county. They also erroneously claimed the bill lacked accountability and would enact untested reforms.

Siding with Special Interests

Justin Owen, president of the Beacon Center of Tennessee, says lawmakers who abandoned support for the bill failed to stand up for the state’s children.

“Legislators stood with special interests, not students,” Owen said. “That’s very unfortunate. Polling consistently shows that Tennesseans support school choice. Tennesseans also sent thousands of e-mails to legislators in support of school choice this year. But, unfortunately, special-interest groups like the teachers union have louder voices than parents and children.”

Targeted the Needy

Owen says Dunn’s bill would have helped the children most in need of a quality education receive it.

“Those children who are in low-income [households] and stuck in schools failing to meet their needs are the ones who could use opportunity scholarships the most,” said Owen. “Unfortunately, even those children will likely have to wait at least one more year before being given those opportunities.”

Owen says Tennessee children and parents urgently need the power to leave failing government schools.

“For families whose children are stuck in bad schools, there is very little they can do,” Owen said. “That is why we have been calling for school choice. Legislators need to provide these children with the lifeline they deserve, rather than toeing the union line.”

‘Lack of Political Will’

Dunn told School Reform News his colleagues’ fear of lobbyists led to the legislation’s demise.

“It’s not indifference,” Dunn said. “It’s lack of political will to help these students.”

Dunn says government teachers unions have an economic interest in fighting school choice.

“They are putting their interests before that of the students,” Dunn said. “They don’t want to compete.”

‘I Will Not Give Up’

Dunn says he won’t stop until parents are empowered to rescue their children from failing government schools.

“I will not give up on giving children trapped in a failing school the opportunity for a better education,” Dunn said.

Andy Torbett ([email protected]) writes from Atkinson, Maine.