From our family to yours, we wanted to wish everyone a Happy Holidays! It’s hard to believe 2023 is winding down from what has been a busy year. We will be taking time off to enjoy Christmas with our family and friends next week and hope you are able to celebrate the holidays with your loved ones too. Best wishes for a Happy New Year as well!
2024 Session Preview
In addition to vouchers being a big topic (read my full thoughts below), the state budget will be a big issue this year as tax collections are decreasing. The last few years post-pandemic, governments have been flush with increased tax revenues and Federal grants from the Inflation Reduction Act.
Current revenue projections this budget year have been down and we are currently around $400 million lower than estimates through November. This will create some pressures to cut state budgets and also allow less revenue for future projects.
This session, I plan on continuing to fight for a few bills that I filed last year including expanding the PACE senior care program statewide, leading the fight to create secure storage laws to address our epidemic of guns being stolen from cars and create flexibility for Metro to use short-term rental taxes to fund affordable housing in Nashville.
I am currently finalizing my legislative package for 2024 but here are a few of the policies I plan to work on in the coming months: Medicaid expansion, providing free breakfast/lunches for K-12 students, improving the TBI gun background check process and regulation of artificial intelligence technology. Once I finalize my agenda and bills, I’ll share it in a future newsletter.
If you have any ideas for legislation or honoring resolutions (ex- retirements, honors/awards, etc.) please reach out to me. You can always see legislation I have previously filed at my Legislative website by clicking on My Bills.
I would love to learn your thoughts about important issues affecting Tennessee in an effort to serve you better. Please complete the 2024 Session District 59 Community Poll at the link below so I can know where to focus my efforts.
Upcoming Community Events
I am a firm believer that a legislator needs to do a lot more listening, than talking. As such, please save the date for an upcoming town hall I am co-hosting with other legislators in West Nashville to interact with constituents and inform you more about important issues in Tennessee. Be on the lookout for other neighborhood events too!
My Thoughts on Governor Lee’s Universal Voucher Proposal
Governor Lee recently made a big splash when he proposed to universally expand vouchers to private schools statewide without income limits. I do not plan to support the universal voucher expansion proposal based on the massive fiscal impact on the state’s budget, the policy’s destabilizing effect on public school finances, and the current results of the existing voucher program.
There are estimates as high as $7 billion for the Governor’s proposal, which is not even remotely realistic with our current or near-term state budget. The recent Legislative work group exploring how to reject $1.8 Billion in Federal funds Tennessee receives concluded it wasn’t a realistic plan because of the high costs. I don’t see how we can come up with obligations to support seven times that amount for the voucher expansion.
If this proposal was to pass it would certainly eat into the state budget and other future potential state K-12 appropriations. In fact, Arizona put forth a warning this year that their universal voucher program was “unsustainable” as 53% of all new K-12 education spending was going towards only 8% of the students (ie-voucher student population).
I think we can agree that vouchers act like a tapeworm for education budgets and are not a financial burden we do not wish to put upon the children and educators of Tennessee.
In looking at the current voucher student results for the first two years, a recent Tennessean article highlighted “TCAP test scores for ESA students show participants performed lower than their public school peers during the first year of the program in 22-23.” With these initial results, I have concerns of expanding this program to the whole state when we are essentially in the first year of the voucher program in Tennessee without having more data to support the expansion.
Personally, I am spending my time and energy focusing on promoting and expanding education policies that work like universal Pre-K, raising teacher and school investment to get us to the national average, and on unique policies that are already working in Tennessee like Lab Schools.
I passed a bill last year allowing private universities the opportunity to sponsor these lab schools which can be public, private, or charter schools. The University of Memphis Lab school is one of the top performing public schools in Tennessee and I would like to see this model expanded in Tennessee.
In fact, I have had great initial discussions with Vanderbilt’s Peabody school about sponsoring a lab school here in Nashville. The Tennessean recently highlighted my Lab School efforts and you can read more about this here.
While I mainly worry about the massive destabilization this proposal will inflict with K-12 education systems in Tennessee and specifically, the 47 counties that are mostly rural, but their school board is the largest employer in the county. Also, I worry my constituents will not see any positive benefit from this proposal as well.
Most of the top-tier private schools that serve students in my district (ex. MBA, Harpeth Hall, Brentwood Academy, Franklin Road Academy, Ensworth, CPA, etc.) don’t participate in the state’s voucher program and data I have seen from other state’s shows private schools mostly raise the tuition once a state subsidy is instituted.
Additionally, the voucher proposal’s downstream effects on public schools will hugely affect their outcomes/funding and I can foresee unintended consequences to taxpayers such as degradation of property values and likely property tax increases.
While this is a complicated policy subject, I simply ask, “How will expanding vouchers statewide help our public school systems and the student’s that they serve?” I can’t find any good answer to this question and until I do, I will be highly skeptical of any voucher proposal.
In addition to the aforementioned reasons why I am against expanding voucher programs in Tennessee, I have three very good reasons, my two kids who love their public school and your family’s children.
Rep. Hemmer in the Tennessean- It’s past time to get serious about Medicaid expansion in Tennessee
Tennessean – As an education researcher, the data show school vouchers would harm Tennessee students
Vanderbilt University – 2024 Tennessee Poll
Tennessee Lookout – White House meeting with Tennessee Legislators on Gun Violence Prevention
Tennessean – They hid from the Nashville school shooter. Months later, nightmares persist for these Covenant survivors
WPLN- Nuclear will be part of the clean energy future. Tennessee plans to lead in building ‘small’ reactors
Please reach out anytime if I can be of assistance to you or answer any questions.
Rep. Caleb Hemmer PS- I’ve only got one thing on my Christmas list……….a campaign donation. Click on the link below to donate and help us continue to fund our mission to help and serve Tennesseans. Thank you and appreciate your continued support!