(The Center Square) – A bill to add Hamilton County schools to Tennessee’s pilot education savings account program was approved by the Senate on Thursday and is scheduled to be discussed in House committee next week.
Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, explained Hamilton County was taken out of the original pilot as the school district put an additional $20 million in funding into the district’s schools and hired a new superintendent, but that has not solved the district’s issues.
He called it a game of whack-a-mole attempting to figure out which school would need help getting off of the state’s priority school list next as three schools went on the list and others were added. He said nine schools were on the list in 2022 and one has since been removed.
“I’m going to give the parents and students the chance to have a choice and not be trapped in failing schools,” Gardenhire said.
Senate Bill 12 was approved by a 19-6 vote.
The bill did not change the number of students that can be admitted to the statewide program each year.
The program can admit 5,000 students in the first year, then 7,500 in the second year, 10,000 in the third year, 12,500 in the fourth year and then 15,000 students in the fifth year.
The ESAs were expected to be worth $7,572 in the first year and advance to a value of $8,684 per ESA.
Families must have an annual household income that does not exceed twice the federal income eligibility guidelines for free lunch to be eligible. They also must attend a school identified as a priority school in 2015 and 2018 and must have been among the bottom 10% of schools as identified by the Department of Education in 2017.