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School choice proponent warns Tennessee Republicans after school choice bill fails: 'They will lose the war'


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Education experts reacted to Tennessee failing to pass a school choice bill in the state after momentum was building up after several years of struggle to fulfill the effort.

After Republican Gov. Bill Lee expected a school choice "revolution" to unfold in the Volunteer State, his hopes were struck down on Monday when a school choice bill died in the state legislature.

American Federation For Children senior fellow Corey DeAngelis told Fox News Digital that the "so-called" Republicans should have learned a lesson from the last Texas primary election.

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"You'd think these so-called Republicans would've learned something from the political earthquake that rocked Texas on Super Tuesday," DeAngelis said. "Special interests might have won the battle this year, but they will lose the war, as they have in other red states. They will do all they can to slow down the school choice revolution, but they can't stop it. Parents are paying attention. They've woken up and will hold politicians accountable for stomping on their right to direct the upbringing of their children."

Lee’s school choice bill was struck down, which now stalls the governor’s effort to pass a statewide school voucher program until next year. This version of the bill will be permanently dissolved due to new lawmakers joining the General Assembly next fall after elections.

Lee has since promised to renew the school voucher talks next session, though it's unclear how much more successful that attempt will fare, as some members won't be returning next year because of retirement and others are facing opponents in this year's election.

"I am extremely disappointed for the families who will have to wait yet another year for the freedom to choose the right education for their child, especially when there is broad agreement that now is the time to bring universal school choice to Tennessee," Lee said. "While we made tremendous progress, unfortunately it has become clear that there is not a pathway for the bill during this legislative session."

American Federation For Children fellow Shaka Mitchell said that school choice proponents will continue to push legislators. 

"I'm disappointed in how things turned out because despite the drama this legislative session, to me this is personal. I have friends and neighbors whose children stand to benefit from the options that come from expanded school choice," he said. "You can rest assured that our work will continue until all families have meaningful options regardless of their address and income. I believe that this is just an instance of some state elected leaders, including my own, being out of touch with their own constituents - another reminder that elections matter."

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Heritage Foundation education research fellow Jason Bedrick told Fox News Digital that the outcome in Tennessee is "disappointing."

"It’s disappointing that the Tennessee legislature has missed an opportunity to expand education freedom for Tennessee families. If past is prologue, those legislators who stood in the schoolhouse door may soon find that the voters are not happy with them," Bedrick said.

In an interview with Fox News Digital in March, Lee touted a "revolution in America right now around school choice." Lee called for a $400 million bill to overhaul public school achievement testing and implement universal school choice advances in the state legislature. 

Despite the initial support, Lee's vision was always considered ambitious in a state where rural GOP lawmakers have remained skeptical of losing limited public school money in their own districts. Rural lawmakers tend to be at odds with school choice measures because public schools in rural areas tend to lack options like there are in suburban and urban communities.

The Tennessee Educators Association (TEA) president celebrated the bill failing to pass the state legislature, calling it an effort to "drain taxpayer dollars" from public schools.

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"Ninety percent of Tennessee’s students are educated in public schools, and today is a great day for them and their parents. On behalf of our students, I want to thank the legislators who stood strong for our state’s children," TEA President Tanya T. Coats said. "We’ve seen a lot of bad voucher policies passed around the country, and none of them have lived up to the promise of benefitting parents and students. I hope that next year when folks return to the Capitol, we focus on good policy that will ensure great public schools in every neighborhood because that is what parents and students ultimately want."

Coats referred to a wave of red states passing universal school choice legislation, a phenomenon that Tennessee sought to join. Alabama was the most recent state to join the fray.

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