More than 600 applications for Tennessee’s new Education Savings Account (ESA) Program have been filed by Tennessee families, Governor Bill Lee (R) announced Thursday in a video message.
“We’ve been working overtime to get the ESA program up and running for this school year,” Lee said, adding:
Today we’ve received more than 600 applications from Tennessee families. Nearly 60 students have already been approved to attend a participating school this fall. These numbers are growing every day for the nearly 40 schools that are offering seats in their classrooms for this school year. And most importantly, we’re committed to a quality rollout of the program.
Every day, more TN students are being approved to attend the school of their choice this fall through our ESA program.
Finally, families in Memphis & Nashville can pick the best school for their child. Lives will be changed & we’re just getting started. pic.twitter.com/iMFwBuzfUJ
— Gov. Bill Lee (@GovBillLee) August 25, 2022
The governor mentioned two letters he received with applications to the ESA from families:
One of the most impactful letters I received was from a young man who wrote to us about the struggle that his mom has had since his dad passed away from cancer. In his letter, he said he’s a hard worker who wants a shot at a good school so that he can give back to his family. That kid deserves that shot.
“Another student who applied is in foster care and life just hadn’t been easy for him.,” he continued. “But he dreams of becoming a veterinarian and he thinks that he benefits from a smaller class size and he should have that benefit.”
“These are just two Tennessee kids out of hundreds who want and deserve the opportunity to choose the school that will help them achieve their dreams,” Lee said.
The ESA program is open to applications from families in Memphis-Shelby County schools, the Metro Nashville school district, or the Achievement School District. If approved, families can use state and local funds for education expenses, including tuition and/or fees at approved private schools, if that is the choice of the parents.
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.
According to the Tennessee Department of Education’s ESA website, funds can be used not only for tuition and fees, but also for “school uniforms, textbooks, tutoring services, computer hardware, educational therapies or services, summer education programs, specialized after-school programs, or other educational purposes.”
“Long before I became governor, when I was working with kids in the inner city, I saw firsthand that when a student has a choice about the school that’s best for them, that student and that family’s life is changed forever,” Lee said in his video message. “Families in Memphis and Nashville have waited long enough for that choice. They won’t have to wait one more day to enroll their child in the school of their choice.”
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.
The state education department sent out its first approval letters Wednesday to families who had applied for the ESA program. At that point, 46 out of 517 applicants had been approved.
“Applications are open and we invite families to visit esa.tnedu.gov to learn more,” Lee invited. “Every student has unlimited potential. Every parent should have a say in their child’s education. The ESA program clears a new frontier for opportunity in Tennessee. Lives will be changed, and the best news is that we’re just getting started.”
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