- Associated Press - Friday, March 28, 2014
Haslam: ‘Ways to go’ on voucher consensus

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Gov. Bill Haslam said Thursday that lawmakers still have a “ways to go” in reaching a consensus on his school voucher legislation, particularly in the House where the proposal has stalled.

But the Republican governor told reporters after speaking at a higher education event organized by the Tennessee Business Roundtable that he’s optimistic a measured approach to his proposal will prevail.

“I think at the end of the day we want to get something done,” he said. “We’re having … discussions now.”

Vouchers - or so-called “opportunity scholarships” - give parents the option to move a child from a failing public school to a private school, with the state providing funds for tuition.

Haslam originally sought to limit the vouchers to students from low-income families attending the bottom 5 percent of failing schools.

Under a new version that passed the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday, if there are not enough students for the available slots, then eligibility would be opened to low-income students in districts that have a school in the bottom 5 percent.


Sebelius visits Nashville to push health exchange

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius visited Nashville on Thursday to urge Tennesseans to sign up for insurance through the federal health care exchange before a March 31 deadline.

Sebelius said that about 16 percent of Tennesseans are uninsured but eligible for insurance through the federal health care exchange, and she encouraged those who have not done so already to sign up.

“If you are a 27-year-old in Nashville trying to make a break singing at the Bluebird Cafe … you can find insurance for as little as $104 a month,” she said, noting that the figure is less than many monthly cell phone or cable bills.

Sebelius was joined by Amy Speace, a 46-year-old singer-songwriter who was able to find insurance on the exchange for $30 a month with a $500 deductible, thanks to a tax credit. Speace said she did not at first think she would be eligible for insurance on the exchange because she already was covered by a high deductible plan through a musicians group. Despite that coverage, she nearly had to declare bankruptcy a few years ago when she developed laryngitis and ended up owing $5,000 in medical bills. She was only saved from bankruptcy by the help of a charity.

Since she enrolled through the exchange in November, Speace said she has been on the phone with every musician she knows, encouraging them to sign up for insurance.

Nashville Mayor Karl Dean also joined Sebelius, saying that after the Affordable Care Act passed the city pulled together a team of people who are holding 200 events each month to provide information about and help with enrolling in a health insurance plan.

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