Lee calls for more school choice, says ‘receptions that entertain legislators’ should be stopped

Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Lee is calling for more school choice in Tennessee and an end to lobbyist-sponsored receptions for state legislators, reports the Associated Press.

Debate over the introduction of vouchers to provide parents with public money to pay for private school tuition has roiled the Tennessee General Assembly in recent years. Even limited proposals have been defeated by a bipartisan coalition of urban and rural lawmakers who fear they would siphon money away from public schools.

Lee spoke in favor of greater school options in a Facebook interview Thursday with the Beacon Center of Tennessee, a conservative advocacy group that has been a vocal supporter of school vouchers.

“Parents need choices and they need options,” said Lee. “So I would be a strong advocate for school choice in every area of the state.”

Lee said his own children were homeschooled and attended both private and public schools.

“Those decisions are best made at home,” said Lee, the chairman of a family-owned construction and home services company.

… Justin Owen, Beacon Center’s president, asked Lee whether he would seek to “rein in” lobbying against school voucher bills by taxpayer-funded entities, which in the past have included city and county governments; public school districts and administrators; and the state department of education.

“Every time we go up to the Legislature to push for this, we hit taxpayer-funded lobbyists,” Owen said.

Lee responded that more people would be opposed to the issue if they were aware of it.

“If taxpayers understood that their dollars were being used to lobby and entertain – we all know about receptions that entertain legislators by lobbyists, and it really should be stopped,” he said.

Note: The Beacon interview with Lee is posted HERE. (There’s about 90 seconds of dead time at the start.)  Two of Lee’s primary opponents, House Speaker Beth Harwell and Sen. Mae Beavers, are legislators. The Beacon Center, which lobbies lawmakers, hosted a “legislative breakfast and briefing” in conjunction with other groups on Jan. 31 of this year, according to the Tennessee Ethics Commission website. The commission reports more than $1.2 million was spent on such events during 2016.

The Nashville Post report has this note on Lee and vouchers: Lee, via his business, Lee Company, also donated $10,000 to the Tennessee Federation for Children”s PAC in 2015; the 501(c)(4) organization that promotes school choice has in recent years had six to eight registered lobbyists. 

Beacon has scheduled future interviews with GOP gubernatorial candidates Randy Boyd and Beavers.

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Former Knoxville News Sentinel capitol bureau chief Tom Humphrey writes about Tennessee politics, government, and legislative news.
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