(The Center Square) – Tennessee has seen nearly 1,000 families apply and more than 350 have been accepted into the state’s pilot educational savings account program.
The program was created out of 2019 legislation that was then blocked by an injunction in 2019 before being overruled by the Tennessee Supreme Court in May.
The program was then launched in late July.
“There are a lot of kids in our state, many of them have not had a choice about what school that they can go to,” said Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee. “I’m one who believes that, when parents have a choice or when kids have an option about their educational pathway they’re much more likely to find success right here in the great state of Tennessee.
“That’s what the education savings account is all about.”
The ESA program is aimed at allowing low-income students in low-performing schools in Davidson and Shelby counties to use vouchers to attend a school of their choice. Those students were set to receive approximately $7,000 to choose their school even though, at that point, schools in Shelby County spent $13,000 per student each year and Nashville schools spent $16,000 per student.
“That means those families now have a chance, now have a choice to choose an educational pathway for their child,” Lee said. “We know that those kids and those families will likely have better outcomes
“It’s a good first step. We have a long way to go in this program, it’s only been open for a few weeks.”
Supporters of the program believe that it will give more opportunities to families with students in public schools that they believe are failing.
“MNPS and Shelby County Schools have consistently failed to provide every child with the education they deserve,” Beacon Center President and CEO Justin Owen has said about the program. “They’ve had their chance, now it’s time to put parents in the driver’s seat. We are glad to be moving ahead with the ESA program and we look forward to giving these children the lifeline they so desperately need.”
Nashville Mayor John Cooper, however, worked with his office to appeal the Tennessee Supreme Court ruling and believe that ESAs are bad policy that have failed in other states.
“The school voucher plan isn’t just flawed from a legal perspective,” Cooper said. “It’s also bad policy.”