Tennessee Department of Education Sends First Approval Letters to Families Applying for Education Savings Accounts

The Tennessee Department of Education has sent out its first approval letters to families applying for the state’s Education Savings Account (ESA) program, with 46 applicants approved thus far, out of a total number of 517, as of Wednesday.

“To note, an award for an Education Savings Account does not mean that a student is accepted to a participating private school,” said Brian Blackley, director of media for the department. “A student must still apply to a participating private school. A participating private school’s decision to accept or reject a student is the sole decision of the school.”

The ESA program “allows eligible students who are zoned to attend a Shelby County district school, a Metro Nashville public school, or a school that was in the Achievement School District (ASD) to use state and local money toward education expenses, including tuition and/or fees at approved private schools,” the department’s ESA website notes.

The Tennessee ESA program would allow qualifying students to receive a scholarship of about $8,000 for numerous educational expenses that include tuition, textbooks, and tutoring service costs.

Families with an annual income of less than $66,950 could be eligible for the program.

Those families interested in applying can get further information here.

According to the data sent by Blackley to The Tennessee Star, the department of education received 75 family applications for ESAs on August 17, making the total number of applicants 517.

Of those families who have applied for the school choice program, 46 have been approved – 12 in Memphis-Shelby County Schools and 34 in Metro Nashville Public Schools. None of the applications have been deemed “ineligible,” the department data notes.

Regarding private schools that have applied to accept students via the ESA program, 34 have been approved as of Wednesday, and none have been denied.

The list of private schools approved to accept ESA funds can be found here.

ESAs differ from school vouchers in that they allow parents to use the state education funds allotted for their child for a variety of education expenses.

Memphis Opportunity Scholarship Trust (MOST), for example, provides a list of how ESA funds can be used at the direction of parents:

  • Tuition or fees at a participating school
  •  Required school uniforms at a participating school
  •  Required textbooks at a participating school
  •  Tuition and fees for approved summer education programs and specialized after school education programs
  •  Tutoring services provided by an individual who meets department requirements
  •  Textbooks required by an eligible postsecondary institution
  •  Transportation to and from a participating school or education provider by a taxi or bus service
  •  Fees for early postsecondary opportunity courses, exams, or exams related to college admissions
  •  Educational therapies or services for participating students provided by a department approved therapist
  •  Computer hardware, technological devices, or other department-approved technology fees (this is applicable only if the technology is used for educational needs, purchased at or below fair market value, and is purchased through a participating school, private school, or provider

In contrast, school vouchers are a direct transfer of state taxpayer dollars allocated for a child to a private or religious school of the family’s choosing.

Many media outlets that do the bidding of pro-public education officials and teachers’ unions use the politically-loaded term “vouchers” for all school choice financial mechanisms, failing to educate the public about the differences in the programs.

The Tennessee ESA program has been tied up in litigation since it was approved by the state legislature in 2019.

A court injunction was lifted on the program in July, only weeks before the school year’s kickoff in Tennessee.

A three-judge panel of the Davidson County Chancery Court also rejected motions seeking a new temporary injunction on August 5.

In May, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled the ESA program does not violate the state constitution’s Home Rule Amendment.

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Susan Berry, PhD is national education editor at The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected]
Photo “Student Accepted into Private School Program” by sofatutor.

 

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