'Judas among us': Passing of Tennessee school voucher bill in House reflects divide

PHOTO: Tennessee State Rep. Jason Powell Twitter

NASHVILLE, Tenn.--A voucher bill providing state funds for parents to send their children to private schools has narrowly passed in the Tennessee House of Representatives.

HB 939 narrowly passed by a vote of 50-48. At first, the vote was deadlocked until Rep. Jason Zachary changed his vote from a 'no' to a 'yes' on the bill.

The vote change drew criticism from some in his own party, Rep. Jason Powell taking to Twitter to state "We have a Judas among us. This was done like a banana republic. Embarrassing for Tennessee."

The program, supported by Governor Bill Lee, is expected to cost Tennesseans $25 million for five years for a total of $125 million. Under the bill, parents would be given state funds from tax dollars to be used for education savings accounts to attend private schools.

To be eligible for the program, students would have to live in a zone where there are three or more schools in the bottom 10% and live with a family member with an annual income that is not over twice the federal income eligibility for free lunch.

The ACLU-TN has called the bill "unfair and discriminatory." In a previous statement release, the ACLU-TN stated "Private school vouchers violate the fundamental principle of religious freedom by funding religious education with taxpayer funds. Additionally, students attending private voucher schools are not afforded the same rights and protections they have in public schools, including First Amendment protections, due process and other rights."

The bill will now go to the Senate for a vote. If no changes are made to that chamber's version, the bill will go to Gov. Lee's desk for signing.

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