State Senators Gresham And Kelsey Propose Compromise Opportunity Scholarship Bill

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville) and Senator Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) on Thursday introduced a compromise bill on opportunity scholarships in an effort to pass legislation this year to help low-income children. Rep. John DeBerry (D-Memphis) is the House sponsor of the bill.

The compromise bill follows closely the governor’s statement last week on school vouchers.  The governor said he hopes to support a bill focused on low-income children in failing schools with annual program caps starting at 5,000 students and rising to 20,000 students.

The compromise bill, Senate Bill 2025, would give low-income students in the bottom 10% of schools in Tennessee an opportunity scholarship to attend the K-12 school of their choice.  It would keep program caps starting from 5,000 students in year one and rising to 20,000 students in year three.  If those caps are not reached each year, scholarships would be offered to other low-income children in those counties in which the bottom 10% of schools are located.  The bill maintains the governor’s definition of low-income, which includes families eligible for free and reduced priced lunch, or $44,000 in annual income for a family of four.

The governor’s proposal last year was limited to students zoned to attend the bottom 5% of schools.  The governor chose not to move forward with the bill after the Senate had proposed changes to it.

“This bill focuses on our neediest children,” said Senator Gresham.  “The parents of these children deserve more choices, and their children deserve more options to receive a quality education.”

“This compromise is an effort by lawmakers to work this bill out,” said Rep. DeBerry.  “We need to focus on what’s best for the children.”

“This is a workable compromise that will help thousands of low-income children while still respecting the governor’s concerns,” said Senator Kelsey.

Over 70% of the schools in the bottom 10% of Tennessee are located in Memphis.  The counties with schools in the bottom 10% are Shelby, Davidson, Hamilton, Hardeman, Knox, Carter, Fayette, Grainger, Lake, & Morgan.

An example last week from Memphis highlights the need to include schools in the bottom 10%.  At A.B. Hill Elementary School, a teacher was accused of shutting a five-year-old girl in a supply closest and then going home sick.  Later the same day, another child was caught carrying a knife.

“To say that students at A.B. Hill Elementary don’t deserve school choice because their school is not in the bottom 5% is just wrong,” said Senator Kelsey. 

“There are students in my district that deserve choices now.  This is an idea whose time has come,” said Rep. DeBerry.

Over the past three years, the following states have either begun or expanded Opportunity Scholarships to include all low income students statewide: Indiana, North Carolina, Alabama, Louisiana, Virginia, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, and Ohio.  Florida and Washington, D.C. have had statewide programs in place for years.

“We now have solid data from other states showing this program works to significantly boost graduation rates,” said Senator Gresham.  "That's why so many other states are now passing this law."

Senator Gresham represents Chester, Decatur, Fayette, Hardeman, Hardin, Haywood, McNairy, and Henderson Counties.  She is Chairman of the Senate Education Committee.  Senator Kelsey represents Cordova, East Memphis, and Germantown.  He is Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.  Representative DeBerry represents parts of South Memphis, North Memphis, and Midtown.  He serves on the House Education Committee.


School Approves New Charter School In Highland Park

The County School Board on Thursday approved a new charter school that will open next year in Highland Park. Ted and Kelly Alling are co-founders of the Chattanooga Preparatory School. The all-boys school will operate in former Tennessee Temple School buildings next to another charter school - the Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy. The school will open with 60 students ... (click for more)

Rymer Scholarship Winners Announced

On Thursday, April 27, Lee University awarded nine incoming freshmen the 2017 Rymer Scholarship. Three Gold Scholars, three Silver Scholars, and three Bronze Scholars were presented the awards at the annual Rymer Scholars banquet on Lee’s campus.   The Rymer Foundation, established in 1989 by Hoyle Rymer and his father, Robert Rymer, awards the scholarships annually. The ... (click for more)

County School Teachers To Get 3% Raise Under Balanced County School Budget

Hamilton County Schools teachers are slated to get three percent pay increases under the balanced budget approved by the School Board on Thursday afternoon. That comes on top of a two percent hike last year. Lee McDade, assistant superintendent, said a large influx of cash came from the state, and Governor Bill Haslam outlined that it was to raise the pay level for teachers. ... (click for more)

Law Enforcement Shuts Down Convenience Store Near College Hill Courts As Public Nuisance

Law enforcement on Thursday took steps to shut down a convenience store near the College Hill Courts as a public nuisance. The action was taken after District Attorney Neal Pinkston filed a petition with Criminal Court Judge Tom Greenholtz about the Westside Shop. The store is operated by Salma Ambo, and the real property is owned by AAA Investment Properties LLC. The petition ... (click for more)

White Coat Syndrome And The Medical System - And Response

Today I wish to share what I am feeling as a patient in our medical system. I am too old to put on airs at this point, and this is too pervasive of a problem for me to contain.   As I enter my AARP years, I am faced with so many medical encounters that evoke all kinds of uncomfortable feelings. I dread physician’s appointments riddled with government regulatory hypocrisy, ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Knoxville’s Godsend

Back when we were uppity teenagers, the best put-down when a friend started acting crazy was to say to the heathen, “Quit acting like you are from Knoxville!” I don’t know how the term originated but I can say that back in the day it was pretty insulting to be told you were acting like you were from Knoxville. This week I wish that more of us acted like Knoxville. The Knox County ... (click for more)