Tennessee Republicans threaten to kill GOP voucher bill over fear of funding Muslim schools
Republican lawmakers in Tennessee are threatening to block Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s school voucher bill over fears that Muslim schools could receive funding.
The Knoxville News Sentinel reported on Monday that Haslam hinted that he would withdraw his bill after objections from Republican lawmakers that it was not broad enough and that the vouchers could be used by Islamic schools.
Over the weekend, state Sen. Jim Tracy (R) had told The Murfreesboro Post that he had “considerable concern” that tax dollars could go to schools that teach principles from the Quran.
Tracy, who is on the Senate Education Committee and identifies himself as a member of the Church of Christ, insisted that Islamic school funding was an “an issue we must address” before the voucher bill can go forward.
“I don’t know whether we can simply amend the bill in such a way that will fix the issue at this point,” he said.
On Monday, Tracy told the News Sentinel that his staff had determined that there was at least one Muslim-oriented school — Pleasant View School in Memphis — that would be eligible for vouchers under the governor’s plan.
And state Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R) worried that an attempt by Sen. Brian Kelsey (R) to broaden Haslam’s bill from the bottom 5 percent of schools to every school in the state would only make more tax dollars available to Islamic educators.
“That’s just another reason for not amending the governor’s bill,” Norris pointed out.
State Sen. Bill Ketron (R), who sponsored a 2009 bill that would have banned Sharia law in Tennessee, hoped to slow the entire process down.
“These issues warrant further assessment,” he remarked to The Murfreesboro Post. “What’s the rush?”
Last week, Ketron had demanded answers from state Senate Clerk Russell Humphrey over concerns that a floor-level sink installed outside the House chamber men’s restroom could be intended to accommodate Muslims’ ritual of washing their feet before prayer.
Humphrey took the matter up with Legislative Administration Director Connie Ridley, who assured the men in an email that “the floor-level sink installed in the men’s restroom outside the House Chamber is for housekeeping use.”
“It is, in layman’s terms, a mop sink,” Ridley wrote.