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.


Dalton/Whitfield, Murray, Gilmer, Gordon, and Catoosa Counties Selected As An Early Education Empowerment Zone

Dalton/Whitfield, Murray, Gilmer, Gordon and Catoosa Counties were selected as one of Georgia’s four Early Education Empowerment Zones and will participate in a community commitment ceremony at 3 p.m. on Oct. 3 at Whitfield/Dalton Day Care Center, 515 South Pentz St. in Dalton.  The five counties will collaborate together in what will be known as the Northern Counties zone. ... (click for more)

Wanda Shelton Named Tennessee Superintendent Of The Year

The Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents met in Gatlinburg, TN on Sept. 7 for the annual awards and recognition dinner. The 2015 Tennessee Superintendent of the Year was announced at the banquet on Sunday night. This year’s honor was awarded to Dr. Wanda Shelton, Lincoln County Schools, South-Central District. Dr. Shelton was named statewide Superintendent of ... (click for more)

Inmate Found Dead In County Jail Early Saturday Morning

An inmate died in the Hamilton County jail Saturday morning. Notification was received from the Hamilton County 911 Center at   12:50 a.m. ,   regarding an inmate found unresponsive.   Jail personnel found the male inmate unresponsive in his cell and initiated C.P.R. while notifying Hamilton County Emergency Medical Services. The party ... (click for more)

Democratic Chairman Roy Herron Announces He Will Not Run For 2nd Term

Democratic Party Chairman Roy Herron announced Saturday at a meeting of the Tennessee Democratic Party State Executive Committee that he would not be seeking a second term as party chairman. “I have been blessed to serve as chairman these past two years, and I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to all of the executive committee members, party officials, staff members, and friends ... (click for more)

You’re Right With Lamar

One of Tennessee’s favorite sons, Davy Crockett, coined an oft-used phrase:  “Be always sure you’re right, then go ahead.” Being sure is quite important, but may be difficult in this election cycle. The Democratic nominee campaigning against Lamar Alexander is a man whose radio ads call for “change,” “fair” taxes and more jobs.  Sounds good, huh?   ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: The Saturday Funnies

Okay … here we go. A number of readers have complained that I haven’t shared any jokes that my friends send to my email address so on a weekend when our Volunteers and Mocs are idle, let’s laugh a little:   I was sitting in a bar one afternoon with an old friend knocking back a few beers when he said, "You know, if we're not careful we'll end up like those two old drunks ... (click for more)