Gov. Bill Lee visits Chattanooga to push voucher initiative

CHATTANOOGA (WDEF) — After 2 months in office, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee visited Chattanooga again today to talk to local business leaders about his education reforms.

Governor Lee spoke at the Chamber of Commerce meeting today, focusing on the positive impacts his education savings account proposal. He says not every student would qualify. If approved, this initiative would only target certain school districts and low income students.

“People will give you five, or six, or seven reasons why you should be concerned about doing this. I can give you 5,000. That’s how many children would be eligible the first year to do this. I give you 5,000 reasons why we ought to do it,” Governor Lee said.

Republican Governor Bill Lee has chosen a new voucher program as one of his top priorities in his first 100 days.

The idea has met a lot of criticism, mainly from educators who worry the program will decrease funding to failing public schools.

However, Governor Lee said that’s not the case.

“When students leave, that money is replaced. And what happens actually is the school district for which this applies has more dollars per people than they had before to actually strengthen those schools that are there,” Lee said.

The program would only apply to low income students in five counties. Hamilton County is one of those five.

“We have to invest in public schools. We have to support our public school teachers in a powerful and strong way. We have to be certain that our public schools are under-girded, strengthened, supported, encouraged,” Lee said.

Hamilton County state representatives like the initiative but are waiting for all the details.

“We all want to be cautious. We need to make a change. Some of us say, it hadn’t worked guys, admit it. We need to make a change to give these children a chance to get out and not shackle them for the rest of their lives,” state representative Todd Gardenhire said.

“If Tennessee is going to lead the nation, then we better lead the nation in education,” Lee said.

Governor Lee says the students participating in the program will be tested with Tennessee Ready to check if the change helped.

If successful, the governor hopes to add another 2,500 students in the second year.

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