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Tennessee Bill to Limit Foreign Workers at Charters Becomes Law

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A controversial measure that caps the number of foreign workers on visas who can be employed in charter schools will become official policy in Tennessee, as Republican Gov. Bill Haslam has allowed it to become law without his signature.

Backers of the proposal, which was approved by Tennessee's GOP-dominated legislature, have said it will help protect jobs in charter schools for Tennessee teachers.

But the measure's critics say it has a xenophobic slant, and will brand the state as a place that is hostile to foreign workers, or foreigners generally.

The law says that charter schools cannot rely on non-immigrant foreign workers on H1B or J1 visas for more than 3.5 percent of their workforce in any given year. It also says that charter schools controlled by "foreign nationals" or those being investigated by the government for "questionable use of non-immigrant foreign worker visa programs," cannot be approved.

In a statement on the measure, Haslam said his state needs to focus on "attracting the best and brightest to Tennessee," and presumably, to its schools. The governor said he was comfortable allowing the bill to become law, because the language on hiring is "permissive and not mandatory," and "does not adversely impact the state's momentum in education reform."

But he also said he had legal concerns about the measure.

Haslam said he would request a formal opinion from the state's attorney general on whether it is constitutional. He said that it is important that local school districts "fully understand the implications of this law and their decisions about granting charter school applications."

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