Legislative Update - Week of February 17, 2020

House Committee Takes Issue with Department of Education Ahead of ESA Rollout

Last year as part of Governor Lee’s legislative priorities, the General Assembly passed legislation to implement the Education Savings Account program (ESAs). This new law enables eligible students in Shelby County Schools and Davidson County Schools to utilize roughly $7,400 for private educational opportunities. Last Wednesday, the House Appropriations Subcommittee heard testimony from the Commissioner and other officials from the Department of Education regarding the upcoming rollout of the program.

The rollout, however, has exceeded anticipated costs.  During debate last year, the Department of Education requested just over $770,000 for this fiscal year, but a contract has already been awarded to a vendor for more than $2 million. The Department was able to cover such additional costs by transferring monies from other programs which the Department is allowed to do according to the Department of Finance & Administration. Members who opposed and several who actually supported the ESA program took issue with this discrepancy and the perceived lack of transparency. While the merits of the legislation received some attention, most of the dialogue focused on the expenditures and oversight of the program.

The Subcommittee Chairman has asked all state stakeholders to return this week for additional testimony on these issues. To watch last week’s discussion or to watch the Subcommittee this Wednesday, February 19 at 2:00 p.m., click here.   

Constitutional Amendment Regarding Right-to-Work

Last Monday, the full Senate adopted SJR 0648 (24-5) which seeks to amend the Tennessee Constitution to protect the state’s right to work standing. Having been adopted by the Senate, it now moves to the House for debate and concurrence, but it has yet to be scheduled for a hearing.    

Items to Watch This Week

HB 1712 by Powell - As introduced, directs the Tennessee Advisory Council on Intergovernmental Relations (TACIR) to study the cost, feasibility, and infrastructure of expanding railroad passenger service in this state through the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, doing business as Amtrak.

Last week, this bill passed the House Infrastructure Subcommittee, and it is scheduled for a hearing this week on Wednesday, at 12:30, in the House Transportation Committee. To watch the meeting, click here

HB 1687 by Cepicky - As introduced, requires the state board of education to abolish all academic standards for science and social studies for students in kindergarten through grade two.

This bill is scheduled for a hearing in the House Curriculum, Testing & Innovation Subcommittee at noon tomorrow. To watch the meeting, click here

*To see a full list of bills being tracked, click here.  Beginning the week of February 24, this list will provide an update on the status of each bill. As amendments are filed and bills examined, bills may be added or deleted from this list.      

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