Questions Continue to Surface Around Company Contracted to Manage Tennessee Education Savings Accounts

The Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) awarding Students First Technologies (SFT) a contract to manage the state’s Education Savings Account (ESA) program continues to raise concerns.

“Our government owes citizens the responsibility of providing the best service at an affordable price. Often they outsource services that could be done better or more efficiently in-house. ” JC Bowman, executive director of Professional Educators of Tennessee told The Tennessee Star, “When that work is outsourced it needs to be with people who have the adequate experience and skills to deliver quality service. We need to know who does the work, and they must be held accountable.”

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Lee Signs Tennessee ESA Voucher Expansion to Chattanooga Area

Gov. Bill Lee signed a bill into law on Friday that expands  the state’s pilot educational savings account program to Hamilton County, which includes the Chattanooga area.

The Legislature approved the deal April 21 after removing Knox County and then passed the bill along to Lee on April 24.

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Tennessee House to Consider Increasing Voucher Eligibility

An amendment being brought forth this week by House Education Chair Mark White (R-Memphis) if made law, would make more families eligible to participate in the state’s Education Savings Account (ESA) program. Often referred to as “vouchers”, ESAs provide funding to eligible families to enroll their children in private schools.

Currently, only students in Davidson and Shelby counties are eligible to participate, but earlier this session SB0012 was passed by the State Senate, expanding eligibility to Hamilton County students. The proposed amendment increases the potential for participation by students in even more districts. 

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DeSantis Signs Universal School Choice Program into Florida Law

Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a piece of legislation into law on Monday creating a universal school choice program.

House Bill 1, sponsored by the Education Quality Subcommittee, establishes an Education Savings Accounts (ESA) program under which every family is eligible to receive up to $8,000 to cover education expenses outside of the public school system. The vouchers will be distributed on a “priority” basis, with families of four making less than $51,000 annually receiving the funds first.

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Georgia Lawmaker Proposes State-Funded Education Savings Accounts

Proposed legislation would allow Georgians to create state-funded Education Savings Accounts.

Under Senate Bill 233, taxpayers would fund $6,000 per student per school year. Students could use that money to defray “qualified” education costs, including private school tuition.

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Virginia Senate Committee Rejects ‘Education Savings Accounts’

The Senate Committee on Education and Health voted to “pass by indefinitely” on three school choice bills by Republican lawmakers Thursday – a signal other school choice bills in the Virginia House of Delegates could face obstacles moving forward. 

One of the measures defeated Thursday sought to create a “Parental Choice Education Savings Account” program, which parents could apply for and use toward certain expenses, including private school tuition.

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Survey: 61 Percent of Americans Say Public Education on Wrong Track

EdChoice’s annual Schooling in America survey found 61 percent of Americans believe government-run education is headed in the wrong direction, while 76% of the public back parental choice programs such as education savings accounts (ESAs).

In 2022, the poll’s tenth anniversary, the survey found 61 percent of Americans and 52 percent of school parents say public schools are on the wrong track, while 34 percent of Americans and 48 percent of school parents state government-led education is headed in the right direction.

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Governor Lee Touts Education Savings Account Program

Tennessee’s Governor on Wednesday touted the state’s new Education Savings Account (ESA) program. 

“When TN families can choose the right school for their child, that student has an even greater shot at success in life,” said Gov. Bill Lee (R) on Twitter. “That’s what our Education Savings Account program is all about. Nearly 1,000 families have applied. 350+ are already approved. And we’re just getting started.”

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$2 Million in Awards Granted to Six Arizona Education Providers to Expand Parental Choice as ESAs Move Forward

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey (R) and Janine Yass, the founder of the Yass Prize, revealed Tuesday the winners of the STOP for Arizona Education Awards, which is granting a total of $2 million, to six of the state’s education providers with the best developed plan to meet the demands of the rising numbers of parents eager to make use of Arizona’s new Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs).

The awards are presented following an announcement, by the office of Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs (D), of results of a campaign by an anti-parental choice group that attempted a referendum to repeal HB 2853, the ESA law.

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Commentary: School Choice Helps Special Needs Students

As summer comes to an end, parents are once again questioning whether neighborhood schools can give their children what they need.

According to the 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), low-income students are 2.8 years’ worth of learning behind their more affluent peers. Similarly, a Reveal analysis of hundreds of public schools across Georgia found that most special education courses are being taught by underqualified teachers. This is not the fault of the teachers, the majority are doing their best while dealing with overcrowded classrooms and unrealistic expectations from leadership-heavy school systems. However, this does not change the fact that it is a problem.

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Gov. Bill Lee Announces More than 600 Applications for Tennessee’s Education Savings Account Program: ‘We’re Just Getting Started’

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.

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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.”

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Governor Bill Lee: Tennessee Has Not Approved Any School Education Savings Accounts for Families

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee (R) said Friday the state has not yet approved any school Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) for families seeking to choose education options outside of public schools.

“There are about 250 families that have actually applied (but) those approvals have not been made yet,” Lee said according to an updated report Saturday from the Associated Press (AP). “The process is underway.”

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Tennessee Star Supreme Court Justice Series: Major Opinions by Justice Roger Page

As Tennesseans prepare to head to the polls on August 4, where they will vote on whether to retain the state’s five Supreme Court justices, The Tennessee Star has completed a profile on each justice currently sitting on the bench.

Last week, The Star profiled Justice Roger Page.

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Memphis, Nashville School Districts to Make Education Savings Accounts Available to Families

According to the governor’s office and the cities of Memphis and Nashville, more than 40 independent have committed to allowing families to enroll in Education Savings Account (ESA) programs beginning in the 2022-2023 academic year. 

“There was an urgent need for school choice in 2019, and finally, parents in Memphis and Nashville won’t have to wait another day to choose the best educational fit for their children,” said Gov. Bill Lee (R). “I thank each school that has partnered with us to swiftly implement a program that will change the lives of Tennessee students, and I invite interested families to begin the enrollment process today.” 

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Corey DeAngelis: More School Choice Creates Greater Incentive for Teachers’ Unions to Push Student-Focused Policies

Corey DeAngelis of the American Federation for Children

In an interview with The Star News Network, nationally known school choice advocate Corey DeAngelis said teachers’ unions would be incentivized to push for more student-focused policies in public schools if school funding followed the child and more states adopted school choice programs.

DeAngelis, the national director of research at the American Federation for Children, is also an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute, and a senior fellow at the Reason Foundation.

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Petition Aims to Dodge Whitmer Veto for Student Opportunity Scholarship

A ballot question committee aims to gather enough signatures to enact the Student Opportunity Scholarship legislation passed last month by the Michigan legislature. It’s anticipated those bills will be vetoed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

Let MI Kids Learn (LMKL) will aim to collect more than 340,000 valid signatures from registered voters for each of the two bills in the Student Opportunity Scholarship package. Upon certification of the signatures by the Board of State Canvassers next year, the House and Senate could enact this veto-proof reform.

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New Report Shows Education Savings Accounts Would Help Taxpayers in Shelby and Davidson Counties

Shelby County Schools would save more than $2,000 for each student who chooses to utilize Education Savings Accounts, and Metro Nashville Schools would save more than $500 for each student who uses them.

This, according to a new research report that staff at the Beacon Center of Tennessee published Thursday.

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Governor Bill Lee Endorses Incumbent Matthew Hill for State Representative

Governor Bill Lee endorsed incumbent Matthew Hill for the state House of Representatives’ 7th District of the eastern portion of Washington County, according to an announcement by the House Republican Caucus.

Hill, who has been a member of the Tennessee House since first elected in 2004, is being challenged by Rebecca Keefauver Alexander in the August 6 Republican primary.

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Commentary: Minority Communities Stand to Lose the Most Because of Judge’s ESA Decision

Next time you hear progressives talk about how they are the ones who are sticking up for minority communities, ask them to square their opposition to educational freedom – or the ability for families to customize their child’s education.

Progressives cheered this week as Nashville Chancellor Anne C. Martin ruled that the state’s education savings account program is “unconstitutional” because of an obscure section in our constitution where it talks about “home rule.”

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Tennessee Democrat Party Not Reflecting Its Vision or Bylaws in Removing Representative John DeBerry From the Democrat Primary Ballot

The decision to remove long-serving House member John DeBerry, Jr. from the 2020 Democratic primary ballot is not reflective of the vision or bylaws of the Tennessee Democratic Party.

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Sources Show Demand for Education Savings Account Program, But There’s No Way for Families to Apply

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.

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Club For Growth Launches State Legislative Scorecard in Tennessee and Three Other States

  Club for Growth Foundation, as part of a new initiative, launched 2019 state legislative scorecards in four states to provide an in-depth look at votes on economic issues, including Tennessee. Only one Tennessee legislator, Representative Debra Moody (R-Covington), earned the designation of Defender of Freedom by the Club for…

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No Verifiable Evidence So Far Confirms NewsChannel 5 Report ‘FBI Investigates Controversial Voucher Vote’

  There is no verifiable evidence so far that will confirm the recent NewsChannel 5 report that claimed the “FBI investigates controversial voucher vote.” The news report last Thursday by Phil Williams at NewsChannel 5 boldly claimed that “FBI agents have begun interviewing Tennessee lawmakers about whether any improper incentives were…

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State Rep. Jason Zachary: ‘I Have Not Been Contacted by the FBI’ Regarding Education Savings Account Vote

  State Representative Jason Zachary (R-Knoxville) told The Tennessee Star Friday that he has not been contacted by the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) regarding the passage of Governor Bill Lee’s Education Savings Accounts (ESA) legislation. As a follow-up to a news report on Thursday by Phil Williams at NewsChannel 5…

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Victory for Governor Bill Lee’s Education Savings Accounts

  NASHVILLE, Tennessee – Victory has finally been achieved for Governor Bill Lee’s Education Savings Accounts program, as both chambers of the Tennessee General Assembly finally adopted the same version of proposed legislation by narrow margins. The final adoption of the Governor’s most significant education initiative, the Tennessee Education Savings…

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Education Savings Accounts Bill Appears Headed to Conference Committee

NASHVILLE, Tennessee – Gov. Bill Lee’s  Education Savings Account legislation appears headed to a conference committee, as the Tennessee House and State Senate both refused on Monday to move from their respective versions of the bill. The House passed HB 0939 last Tuesday by one vote after a dramatic 40-minute…

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High Drama as State House Eventually Passes Governor Bill Lee’s Education Savings Account Initiative

  NASHVILLE, Tennessee – A much-anticipated vote by the full Tennessee House of Representatives on Governor Bill Lee’s Education Savings Account (ESA) initiative ended in high drama on Tuesday, after it was moved from the second item on the agenda of the Regular Calendar to the end. From the outset…

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Senator Dolores Gresham Champions Governor Lee’s Education Savings Accounts Bill Through Education Committee

NASHVILLE, Tennessee – Governor Bill Lee’s most significant education initiative, Education Savings Accounts, made it through another major hurdle as it passed the Senate Education Committee Wednesday by a vote of 6 to 3. Senator Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville), who is also the Chair of the Education Committee, carried the bill…

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Amid Division, Representative DeBerry Delivers Inspirational Speech from the State House Floor During an Honoring of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The House Black Caucus honored Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the 51st anniversary of his death in Memphis, Tennessee with a reading of what is known as King’s final “I’ve Been To The Mountaintop” speech, even as there is division amongst the group. Dr. King came to Memphis for…

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Tennessee Republican Party Issues Statewide Call For Support of Governor Lee’s Education Savings Account

As Governor Bill Lee’s legislation on Education Savings Accounts is set to be voted on by the full House Education Committee on Wednesday, March 27, the Tennessee Republican Party calls for support of his education plan. The Tennessee Republican Party (TRP) sent a personalized email Friday saying, “We need your…

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Governor Bill Lee’s Proposal for Education Savings Accounts Passes Its First Hurdle in Tennessee House Subcommittee

NASHVILLE, Tennessee – The bill that lays out the details of Governor Bill Lee’s proposal for Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) passed its first hurdle in the House Curriculum, Testing & Innovation Subcommittee. The 16-page amendment that “makes the bill” was presented by Speaker Pro Tem Bill Dunn (R-Knoxville), who is…

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Final Details of Gov. Bill Lee’s Education Savings Account Plan Released

Tennessee students in urban cities could start escaping failing schools in fall 2021 as Gov. Bill Lee has pulled the curtain back on his education savings account (ESA) plan, with legislative action planned for Tuesday. Some say the math does not add up. Lee would spend up to $75 million…

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Governor Bill Lee’s Education Savings Account Plan Will Offer School Choice to Less Than One Percent of Tennessee Students in 2020

Gov. Bill Lee is moving forward on his campaign pledge of school choice in the form of Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) available in 2020, although only about one-half of one percent of the state’s students would qualify to participate in the program’s first year. The governor delivered his first State…

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JC Bowman Commentary: State of the State Expectations 2019

The State of the State will signal to the state the administration’s priorities for the immediate future. It is where campaign promises, either become realities or go to die.

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Taxpayer-Funded Tennessee School Board Association Lobbies State Legislature for More Money and Greater Control

NASHVILLE, Tennessee – The Tennessee School Board Association, funded through membership dues paid with tax dollars allocated for school systems, lobbies the Tennessee General Assembly on various issues many of which work against taxpayers’ interests. This week, the Tennessee School Board Association (TSBA) held their annual Day on the Hill…

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New Poll Shows Tennesseans Overwhelmingly Support Education Savings Accounts

A new statewide poll released Thursday by the Tennessee Federation for Children shows that when voters receive information about Education Savings Accounts, they are overwhelmingly supportive of a program being passed by the Tennessee Legislature. The poll by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, Inc. of 625 registered Tennessee voters was conducted…

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During National School Choice Week, Speaker Pro Tem Bill Dunn Receives Award for School Choice Efforts

In celebration of National School Choice Week, Tennessee Federation for Children sponsored a Champions of Choice event at the state capitol to present Representative Bill Dunn with the 2019 Champion award. Standing beside Tennessee Speaker of the House Glen Casada (R-Franklin), Shaka Mitchell, Tennessee’s State Director of American Federation for…

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