PRESS STATEMENTFor Immediate Release: May 1, 2019Contact: Hamp Price | firstname.lastname@example.org | 256.749.6420
TN General Assembly Passes Discriminatory and Unconstitutional Education PlanCourts should uphold constitutional guarantees for immigrant families
Nashville, TN - Today the Tennessee General Assembly approved Governor Lee’s education savings account proposal (SB 795/HB 939). The final version of the heavily debated bill included a provision that would exclude immigrant families from participating in the program.
During debate on the House floor, sponsor Bill Dunn (R-Knoxville) affirmed that the new version would exclude undocumented students, while in the upper chamber Senator Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga) slammed the unconstitutional provision that would not only exclude undocumented students but also U.S. citizen children of immigrant parents. When questioned by Senator Jeff Yarbro (D-Nashville) if Gardenhire’s characterization of the provision was accurate, Chairman Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville), sponsor of the bill, confirmed the exclusionary intent.
Voucher proposals have been defeated in previous years. In order to secure enough votes for the bill, proponents had to introduce a patchwork of amendments to build and maintain a fragile coalition, including limiting the program to just two Tennessee counties. Immigrant families, despite having constitutional guarantees to K-12 education, were disgracefully put at the center of the debate and used as a wedge issue on both sides.
To win over anti-immigrant legislators, the administration agreed to exclude potentially tens of thousands of immigrant families from his signature education bill. Opponents of the voucher bill also stoked anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiments by threatening legislators with the prospect that immigrant families would receive equal treatment.
The following is a statement from Lisa Sherman-Nikolaus, policy director at Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition:
“Immigrant families are Tennesseans. It’s shameful that the Governor’s signature education proposal failed to recognize that our collective future depends on the success of immigrant students and families, too.
Debate around this bill was a disgraceful end to a toxic session that saw lawmakers on both sides of the debate using immigrant and Muslim families as bargaining chips to win votes for or against the governor’s controversial education plan. We are deeply disappointed in this crass political calculation and expect more from our leaders.
While the legislature failed to defend the rights of immigrant families, we expect the courts to overturn the discriminatory provisions of this bill and uphold the right of all children to equal access to education.”
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.