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Republican Sources Indicate Governor’s Voucher Expansion in Critical Condition

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — As per multiple legislative sources, the Governor’s push to extend school vouchers to all Tennessee counties is currently facing significant challenges in this legislative session.

House Majority Leader William Lamberth, R-Portland, has emphasized that efforts are ongoing, albeit with time constraints looming. Both chambers’ leaders have expressed a desire to adjourn by next week.

Representative John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville, a staunch critic of the proposal, refrained from premature celebration. He stated, “By most indications, Governor Bill Lee’s voucher scheme seems to be struggling, but we, as Democrats, along with our supporters, fellow advocates for public schools and families, will remain vigilant and withhold any declarations of victory until the session adjourns sine die.”

Behind Closed Doors

Following a meeting between top House and Senate Republican leaders and Governor Bill Lee on Monday to discuss the way forward, NewsChannel 5 had exclusive coverage of Senate leadership entering the Governor’s office. However, they exited shortly after, along with Governor Bill Lee.

When asked for an update on the voucher discussions, Governor Lee mentioned he had to “head down.”

Subsequently, the meeting was relocated by the Governor to a conference room in the Capitol’s basement, possibly due to NewsChannel 5’s presence.

Reporter Chris Davis and Photojournalist Toney Cook were informed by Governor Lee’s press secretary that they couldn’t stay outside the basement-level conference room due to a Capitol regulation prohibiting recordings on that floor. Nevertheless, Governor Lee has conducted media interactions on that floor previously, including one earlier in the ongoing legislative session.

Key Issues

While Republican lawmakers refrained from on-camera discussions regarding the fate of the school choice legislation on Monday, last week, chamber leaders highlighted significant disparities in their perspectives on the proposal. Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, stressed the importance of maintaining testing and accountability standards, stating, “We’re making sure we’re not going to go back on testing and accountability.”

Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, echoed concerns about excessive testing, emphasizing its negative impact on instructional time. He remarked, “If you talk to any parent, any student, any teacher, we over-test. And that’s at the detriment of instruction time in the classroom, so we’re adamant about testing.”

The Senate’s version of the voucher bill advocated for open enrollment in public schools, allowing students to choose schools across zones and county boundaries. Speaker Sexton emphasized the significance of resolving issues related to public school transfers, stating, “We’re trying to hammer out public to public. It’s a huge issue for our caucus.”

Lt. Gov. McNally expressed a preference for the Senate’s version of the bill, stating, “We tend to like the Senate version the best.”

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