Concern for kids is changing the system

Concern for kids is changing the system

Concern for kids is changing the system

As the Tennessee Legislature goes back into session this month, a top priority will be expanding ESAs.

Governor Bill Lee (R) plans to expand the Education Savings Account (ESA) program this year from three large counties to every school district in the state, and Walter Blanks, Jr. of the American Federation for Children says public support is overwhelming.

Blanks, Walter (AFC) Blanks

"Families have been, for the past three years, looking for alternatives when it comes to their children's education, and this is just another avenue," he tells AFN. "Right now, families are just tired and frustrated with the current system and want something more."

Blanks says the Tennessee School Boards Association and teachers' unions oppose the proposal because it would diminish their power and control.

"Very few times is their concern actually about the children, which is something that the American Federation for Children and the governor's office are really passionate about," he adds.

The bill narrowly passed the General Assembly in 2019, granting qualifying students about $8,200 a year to enroll in private schools. Gov. Lee made the legislation the major initiative of his first year in office, but it took a legal battle -- in which two courts determined the measure was unconstitutional -- before the Tennessee Supreme Court decided the program could be offered in Metro Nashville and Memphis.

More legislation was added last spring adding Hamilton County Schools as a voucher district.

In November, the Tennessee Lookout reported that the biggest test was expected to be moving the bill out of the legislature's Education Administration Committee.

State Rep. Mark White (R), chairman of that committee, has said he plans to sponsor a bill to make vouchers and parental choice available statewide.

"That's what the conversation will be when we go back in session," he said. "A lot of people say it takes money away from public schools. I'm not a believer in that. When you have choice, you have competition, which opens up innovation."