Gov. Bill Lee, a Republican, announced this week he plans to expand a pilot program with 2,400 students to include 20,000 scholarships. He is asking the legislature to pass the Education Freedom Scholarship Act which would give approximately $7,000 to qualifying students for the 2024-2025 school year, according to a Fox News story.
Half of those 20,000 state scholarships would be set aside for students in poverty, who have a disability, or are otherwise eligible for the current pilot program, according to the Governor’s office.
Andrew Handel, who oversees education policy at the American Legislative Exchange Council, says Tennessee is becoming the tenth U.S. state to launch a statewide school-choice program.
"I think it's really exciting,” Handel tells AFN.
Fox News reported Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders joined Gov. Lee to support the neighboring state. She signed a school voucher program in March which she called a “transformational education plan.”
AFN reported in a Nov. 27 story that Iowa’s Republican governor, Kim Reynolds, was honored by The Heritage Foundation for signing a statewide scholarship program in her state. Reynolds overcame some Republican opposition and signed the Student First Act that will give school children a $7,500 credit beginning with the 2025-2026 school year.
The school-choice movement is not without controversy. Critics say it takes money from public school classrooms by removing students, and thus weakens the public school system, which is what concerned some Republican lawmakers in Iowa.
The school-choice movement is also opposed by Democrats who are allied with teachers' unions.
“If you’re a Tennessean who cares about the future of our state then you’re opposed to vouchers,” Democrat Sen. Heidi Campbell, a Tennessee state lawmaker, complained in a Twitter post.
Campbell, who represents some Nashville suburbs in the Tennessee Senate, attended a private school named St. Bernard Academy, according to The Tennessee Star. The current tuition there is $16,000 annually, the news article said.
Handel says the goal of ESAs and the school-choice movement is for parents and guardians to gain control over their child’s education.
"If they think that their local public school is the best school for them,” he says, “then they should absolutely continue sending their child there.”
Other families who want a private school, or home schooling, or a charter school, he adds, should have the financial ability to make that choice, too.