Two separate sources show there is pent up demand for the state’s Education Savings Account (ESA) Pilot Program, but there is not yet a way for interested parents to apply with the Tennessee Department of Education for the upcoming school year.
American Federation for Children-Tennessee (AFC), a non-profit organization dedicated to advocating for parent choice in education, launched a website earlier this year to parents who participated in National School Choice Week January 27 through 31.
The website is dedicated to assisting parents in determining the eligibility of their children for a $7,000 state-funded ESA scholarship for private school.
The AFC-Tennessee web page guides parents through their potential eligibility for the scholarships by asking four simple questions relative to the qualifications for the program in a user-friendly format, rather than parents having to wade through the details that were set into law by the Tennessee General Assembly last year.
The four guiding questions on AFC-Tennessee’s ESA eligibility website are:
1. Do you live in Shelby County or Davidson County?
2. Does your child currently attend a school in either Shelby County or Metro Nashville School districts?
3. How many people are in your household (adults + children)?
4. Is your annual income less than … The amount presented is between $43,966 and $112,918, based on 200 percent of the Federal Free Lunch Program and a family size of between 2 and 8 people.
AFC’s website then lets the user know whether it looks like they qualify for an ESA and has a form to provide the users name and email and phone number to that they can be contacted with details on how to apply.
So far, parents have shown tremendous interest in the program through the AFC website.
Shaka Mitchell, AFC-Tennessee State Director, said in a statement Friday, “That more than 1,400 parents have used the site shows there is absolutely demand for this ESA program.”
“We have gotten great feedback from parents who are grateful there is a tool they can use to determine their eligibility and stay updated on the latest news coming from the Tennessee Department of Education. Being informed will help them make the best choice for their child and their family,” Mitchell said about his organization’s website.
Meanwhile, the Tennessee Department of Education has been taking applications from private schools interested in participating in the ESA program, and has an on-line form for submitting an intent to participate for the 2020-2021 school year.
Chalkbeat reported Friday that 58 private schools have already been approved to participate in the ESA program next school year, while another 11 applications are being reviewed by the Department of Education.
The private school interest exceeded expectations, as Deputy Commissioner Amity Schuyler predicted about 50 schools would participate in year one, according to Chalkbeat.
Although the 31 schools in Shelby County and 27 schools in the greater Nashville area represent 2,324 classroom seats, according to Chalkbeat, that’s less than half the 5,000 seats allowed in the first year of the ESA program.
AFC-Tennessee has demonstrated that the demand from Tennessee families is there, and the Department of Education has evidence that there are private schools interested in participating.
It appears that the missing link is the Tennessee Department of Education’s student application.
In fact, on the Department of Education webpage for the Education Savings Account (ESA) Program, there is a link for ESA Website. Clicking it gives a “THIS WEBSITE IS CURRENTLY UNAVAILABLE.” message on an otherwise blank page.
For those whose children will be attending private schools through the ESA program, the parents are responsible for providing transportation.
Additionally, the $7,000 scholarship available through the ESA program may not be sufficient for the full tuition of participating private schools, leaving parents to apply to the schools for additional financial aid, if necessary, or finding another source for funding.
On the other side of the question, both public and private schools in Davidson and Shelby counties need to make plans relative to enrollment for the upcoming school year.
Final approval for student participation in the ESA program rests with the Tennessee Department of Education, leaving all parties dependent upon the launch of the student application page.
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