Tennessee lawmakers grilled the state Department of Education on Wednesday over a recently signed contract for the implementation of school vouchers.
Republican lawmakers hinted that Gov. Bill Lee’s administration’s plans to roll out the program early could be in jeopardy.
Legislators are worried that the Department of Education is rushing to get school vouchers started. The agency hired an outside vendor, Florida-based ClassWallet, to help with the rollout and to track education expenses.
But the contract for the first year is $1.2 million. Overall, that’s nearly twice as much of what the state legislature budgeted for the first year of the voucher program. And it runs for two years.
Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, questioned the authority of the agency to do this.
“When they ask for $750,000 and then spend $2.5 million without telling us, those are real problems,” Hill said.
The Republican also complained the agency awarded a non-competitive contract.
But the agency told lawmakers it did nothing improper. The contract was covered by unspent money from another program that’s now defunct.
“We followed every single law [and] policy set out in statute,” Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn told reporters as she was rushing to leave the hearing room.
But House GOP Caucus Chairman Jeremy Faison told reporters he regrets supporting the law. He says the program isn’t being the run correctly, and although school vouchers are supposed to be implemented this year, Faison predicts that’s not going to happen.
“You do understand that we (the legislature) control the purse,” Faison told reporters. Later, in a text message to WPLN News, Faison added that “the legislature will not be passing anything or speeding up anything that deals with vouchers this year.”
Lee’s office declined to comment.