PRESS STATEMENTFor Immediate Release: April 10, 2019Contact: Hamp Price | email@example.com | (615) 241-0752
Tennessee Governor's Education Proposal Runs Afoul of Federal LawWith his signature education policy proposal, Governor Lee starts his tenure pushing an unconstitutional, exclusionary agenda
NASHVILLE, TN - The Senate Education Committee voted today to advance Governor Bill Lee’s controversial school voucher proposal. The plan, introduced as SB 0795/HB 0939, seeks to create an Education Savings Account (ESA) that would allow parents to withdraw their children from public schools to receive a deposit of public funds into government-authorized accounts. The bill would reallocate taxpayer resources from state and local governments directly to students enrolled in an ESA.
After facing criticism from multiple sides, the bill has undergone several revisions. However, the version that passed the Senate Education Committee today retained a harmful provision to exclude undocumented students and documented students, including U.S. citizens, of undocumented parents. The amended bill includes documentation requirements that would exclude children whose parents cannot provide U.S. issued identification.
The proposed legislation would violate the equality guarantees recognized by the Supreme Court and other lower federal courts. Furthermore, the courts have ruled against other states? policies that would have a chilling effect on access to K-12 education or to deny in-state tuition to students based on the status of their parents. The courts found that it is unlawful to chill or impede access to K-12 education, or to deny educational benefits to students, based on the status of their parents.
According to the Migration Policy Institute, roughly 7,000 undocumented children, ages 3 to 17 years old, are enrolled in schools in Davidson and Shelby County, two of the five districts included in SB0795/HB0939. Tens of thousands of U.S. citizen children in Tennessee live with an undocumented relative.
After more than two hours of discussion, the bill passed 6-3: Senators Bell (R-Riceville), Crowe (R-Johnson City), Haile (R-Gallatin), Kelsey (R-Germantown), Lundberg (R-Bristol), and Gresham (R-Somerville) voted for the measure while Senators Akbari (D-Memphis), Dickerson (R-Nashville), and Hensley (R-Hohenwald) opposed.
Below is a statement from Lisa Sherman-Nikolaus, policy director at Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition:
“We are deeply disappointed that Governor Lee has made the political calculation that excluding immigrant families and institutionalizing discrimination is the way to advance his education agenda. Rather than rooting his vision for our schools in equity and fairness for all Tennessee children, he’s bucking the Constitution, federal law, and common-sense public policy.
Excluding tens of thousands of students from an education program based on their immigration status, or that of their parents, is a recipe for failure not only for our immigrant families, but for our whole state. This bill suffers from serious constitutional and legal problems that will undoubtedly lead to costly tax-payer funded litigation that is doomed to fail in the courts.
Instead of focusing on a losing strategy, we should be ensuring all Tennessee schools are providing excellent instruction to all students, regardless of immigration status, to set them up for bright, successful futures in our state.”
TIRRC is a statewide, immigrant and refugee-led collaboration whose mission is to empower immigrants and refugees throughout Tennessee to develop a unified voice, defend their rights, and create an atmosphere in which they are recognized as positive contributors to the state. Since its founding in 2001, TIRRC has worked to develop immigrant leadership, build the capacity of its immigrant-led member organizations, help immigrant community members understand and engage in the civic process, and educate the public about policies that would better promote integration of new immigrants and facilitate their full participation in US society. In just a few years TIRRC has grown from a grassroots network of community leaders into one of the most diverse and effective coalitions of its kind, a model for emerging immigrant rights organizations in the Southeast and throughout the United States.