The FBI is investigating whether state lawmakers in the Tennessee General Assembly who voted for a school vouchers bill were improperly offered inducements, a Nashville television station reported late Thursday, but both of Maryville’s state representatives said they had not yet been contacted.
Rep. Bob Ramsey (R-Maryville) voted against House Bill 939 because it would erode public education, he said in an interview last month.
But Ramsey confirmed that he was strong-armed by voucher proponents with promises of “enhanced allocations of funds” if he voted for the bill.
Rep. Jerome Moon (R-Maryville) voted for the bill and said in a telephone interview late Thursday that he had not been contacted by the FBI, which WTVF reported was referred the case by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Neither federal agency could be reached for comment Thursday night.
Ramsey said late Thursday he too had not been contacted by the FBI.
Moon, who said he initially opposed the voucher bill, added that he changed his mind after seeing the societal effects of failing schools.
“Would you send your kid to a failing school to get a $300 break? The governor (Bill Lee) is really sincere in breaking the cycle of failure. He’s married to a third grade teacher. We can’t continue to put kids through school to be ready-made customers for drug dealers,” Moon said Thursday night after leaving a VFW meeting.
Moon is the former publisher of The Daily Times.
“I was offered no inducement at all, and no one from the governor’s office made any offers either,” Moon said.
The vouchers bill passed the House on a 50-48 vote April 23 after Rep. Jason Zachary (R-Knoxville) switched his vote to break a 49-49 tie after he told reporters he had received assurances that Knox County would be exempted from the legislation.
The bill passed the Senate on April 25 after being amended to apply only to Shelby (Memphis) and Davidson (Nashville) counties.
The “Tennessee Education Savings Account Act” provides for education savings accounts for eligible students. An average of $7,300 per child would be provided to families of students who are removed from public schools and educated at home or in private institutions. Some money would be returned to public schools that lost students because of vouchers.
State Sen. Art Swann (R-Alcoa) voted against the bill, saying last month, “We’ve got better things to spend money on.”
The governor championed the vouchers bill as his signature win early in his administration, which began in January.
“Low-income students deserve the same opportunities and we have a bold plan that levels the playing field while also focusing improvement on the lowest-performing school districts,” Lee said in a press release last month.
Rep. David Hawk (R-Greeneville) told WTVF that House Speaker Glen Casada’s chief of staff, Cade Cothren, told him they needed his vote and added, “What do you want?”
Hawk told the television station that the speaker had nothing he wanted and added: “I don’t play games like that.”
Cothren resigned this week after reports went public that the chief of staff had used cocaine in his legislative office and sent racist and sexually graphic text messages.