Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Gov. Lee, Legislative Leadership Call for Statewide School Choice, Unveil Education Freedom Scholarship Act

“Tennessee parents should have the freedom to choose the right education for their child.”

Press release, NASHVILLE, Tenn., Nov. 28, 2023- Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee presented the Education Freedom Scholarship Act of 2024, his administration’s legislative proposal to establish statewide universal school choice, alongside members of the General Assembly, Tennessee families and education stakeholders. This legislation aims to provide every Tennessee parent with the opportunity to choose the right education for their child, while prioritizing families with the greatest need.

“A high-quality education has the power to change the trajectory of a child’s life, and there’s no questionthat now is the time to make school choice a reality for every Tennessee family,” said Gov. Bill Lee. “Tennessee’s Education Freedom Scholarships will empower parents with the freedom to choose the right education for their child, while also giving them a say in how their taxpayer dollars are invested. In the coming months, I look forward to working with Tennessee families and members of the General Assembly to accomplish this historic legislative initiative and establish Tennessee as a leader in providing choice for families while also striving toward the best public school system in the country.”

Working to expand the educational choices parents and students have available to them is always a worthy goal,” said Lt. Gov. Randy McNally. “I am grateful Governor Lee has brought forth this proposal and I look forward to working with him, Speaker Sexton and all members of the General Assembly in pursuit of that goal."

“We all agree that every child should have an opportunity for a quality education that meets their needs, and I strongly believe the ultimate decision should be made by parents, not government bureaucrats,” said House Speaker Cameron Sexton. “This scholarship opportunity is funded outside the current K-12 funding model, TISA, which means dollars do not follow students. We all know a quality education changes one’s life and reduces poverty and crime within communities. In the future in Tennessee, students and parents will be in control of their education success, without the government limiting their opportunities.”

“Across the state, parents should be empowered to make the best education decisions for their children by having input over where their taxpayer dollars are spent,” said Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson. “Students should not be boxed in to attending a school that doesn’t fit their needs. I am grateful to Governor Lee for proposing the Education Freedom Scholarship Act to give Tennessee parents the ability to make a fundamental choice: where their child goes to school. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the General Assembly and Governor Lee and his team to pass this legislation."

“Tennessee is serious about student achievement,” said House Majority Leader William Lamberth. “This is a bold idea that will empower families and change lives. This initiative, combined with our historic investments in public education, will launch a new era of student success in Tennessee.”

The Education Freedom Scholarship Act will empower Tennessee parents with the freedom to choose the right school for their child and give families a choice where their taxpayer dollars are spent.

Tennessee residents entitled to attend K-12 at a public school, including homeschoolers enrolled in umbrella or church-related schools, will be eligible for the program. The bill is structured to prioritize eligibility for the most at-risk students before ramping up to universal eligibility.

  • 2024-25 school year: A total of 20,000 scholarships will be awarded on a rolling first-come, first-served basis.
    • 10,000 scholarships available for Tennessee students who are at or below 300% of the federal poverty level, have a disability, or are eligible for the existing ESA pilot program.
    • 10,000 additional scholarships available to a universal pool of students entitled to attend a public school.
  • 2025-26 school year and beyond: Universal eligibility for all students entitled to attend a public school. If applications exceed available scholarships due to funding, lower income, public-school and returning scholarship students will receive priority.

Since taking office in 2019, Governor Lee has been passionate about expanding choices for parents regarding their child’s education, while also making historic investments in Tennessee’s public schools, with an emphasis on funding students, not systems.

In 2022, the Lee administration worked in partnership with the General Assembly to pass the Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement (TISA) Act, transitioning Tennessee’s K-12 public schools to a student-based funding approach and investing an estimated $9 billion into education funding for the state, which included an additional recurring state investment of $1 billion annually.

In 2023, Gov. Lee signed Teacher Paycheck Protection Act, a landmark bill giving teachers the largest pay raise in state history. As a result, Tennessee is currently on track to become a top ten state for starting teacher pay by 2026.

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