published Monday, March 11th, 2013

Nashville lawmaker to seek legal opinion on voucher plan’s constitutionality

NASHVILLE — A Nashville lawmaker says he is seeking a legal opinion from the state attorney general’s office on whether the Tennessee Constitution will allow the use of taxpayer-funded vouchers to send students to private schools.

Democratic Rep. Gary Odom is questioning whether state Constitution’s Article XI, Section 12, which deals with public education, permits Gov. Bill Haslam’s voucher or “opportunity scholarship” legislation.

The section says the General Assembly “shall provide for the maintenance, support and eligibility standards of a system of free public schools.”

During a House Finance Committee budget hearing last week, Odom told Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman that while he thinks the provision allows the state to fund charter schools, which are public schools operated privately, as well as virtual schools, he is skeptical about it allowing vouchers.

“My question to you is on the issue of vouchers,” Odom told Huffman. “It seems like that departs from the authority we have in our state Constitution.”

Odom asked whether the administration had an attorney general’s opinion or legal memos saying the voucher proposal passes constitutional muster.

Huffman said that while he personally hadn’t seen a legal opinion, he was fairly confident attorneys would have looked at the issue.

Noting “there are a lot of ramifications on the voucher issue” and its impact on public education finances, Odom said he would “feel better better if we had some legal opinion.”

House Finance Commissioner Charles Sargent, R-Franklin, whose own public school superintendent in Williamson County opposes vouchers, told Odom “you may want to write a letter and get an opinion.”

about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

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