Several conservative lawmakers in Tennessee are throwing the brakes on a fast-moving bill that would divert money away from public schools and towards vouchers for students to attend private or parochial schools. Republicans are taking a second look at the bill after the possibility arose that some Islamic schools could apply for the same funding made available to other religious schools.
The bill is a top priority for Republican Governor Bill Haslam, but several anti-religion lawmakers in the state senate, led by Sen. Bill Ketron who sponsored several anti-Islam bills in the last few years, are hoping to strip away the ability for any school that caters to Muslim children and their families to receive public dollars:
“This is an issue we must address,” state Sen. Jim Tracy (R-Shelbyville) said. “I don’t know whether we can simply amend the bill in such a way that will fix the issue at this point.”
State Sen. Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro) and Tracy each expressed their concerns Friday over Senate Bill 0196, commonly called the “School Voucher Bill” and sponsored by fellow Sen. Mark Norris (R-Collierville), which would give parents of children attending failing public schools a voucher with which to enroll in a private school.
Tea party and anti-Muslim activists are taking aim at a recent hire by the administration of Gov. Bill Haslam, targeting one of its top economic development officers based on her religion and past work experience.
The Center for Security Policy, a Washington, D.C., organization that has frequently attacked Muslims for perceived ties to Islamist groups, and the 8th District Tea Party Coalition, an umbrella organization of West Tennessee tea party groups, have urged their members to pressure Haslam and Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty to dump Samar Ali, an attorney appointed last month as the department’s new international director.
The groups depict Ali as an Islamic fundamentalist with close ties to President Barack Obama. The claims are spurious and ECD has no intention of firing Ali, said Clint Brewer, a department spokesman. “She’s eminently qualified to do the job,” Brewer said. “We are lucky to be able to have her.”
The pressure campaign, which began last Thursday with a posting on a Center for Security Policy blog, does not appear to have been effective. Brewer said ECD has received fewer than two dozen emails and phone calls. David Smith, a spokesman for Haslam, said his office had received 18 emails and 13 calls, all of them before Tuesday.