Part of Governor Bill Lee’s nearly $38.6 billion budget includes significant funding for school choice. During his State of the State address yesterday in Nashville, Lee said he wants to allocate $25 million this upcoming fiscal year to school choice. This would enable more parents to use education savings accounts – or ESAs – to pay private elementary- and secondary-school tuition for their children.
Lee said his ESA plan would “strengthen public schools and provide choices for parents at the same time,” by creating competition that would incentivize schools to improve and offer students new opportunities.
Lee acknowledged detractors’ concerns that the plan would divert money from public schools, but added, “my ESA plan will invest at least $25 million new dollars in public schools in the first year to fill the gap when a student transfers to another school.”
Currently in Tennessee, parents of students with particular disabilities may withdraw their children from public schools and get up to $6,000 toward private educational services – whether that be private school, tutoring or some other educational service.
Four other states presently offer some form of ESA program: Arizona, Florida, Mississippi and Nevada. However, Nevada’s Supreme Court struck down the state law, ruling its funding mechanism was unconstitutional.
Under Lee’s proposed plan, parents of students in certain low-income districts – with three or more schools in the bottom ten percent – could receive $7,300 in government-authorized funds to pay for approved expenses.
In its pilot year, enrollment would be limited to 5,000 students; the cap would increase to 7,500 if the enrollment maximum is reached.
Lee also wants to double facility funding available to the state’s public charter schools, with an influx of $12 million next year. He wants the State Board of Education to develop standards ensuring only high-quality charter schools receive authorization.
Other budget allocations would include:
- $71 million for 2.5-percent teacher raises
- $40 million for additional school resource officers
- $25 million for statewide vocational- and technical-training programs
- Increasing the state’s rainy-day fund to $1.1 billion
- Addressing the state’s prison-staffing shortages by increasing the number of corrections officers
- $50 million in economic-development infrastructure funds for Volkswagen, whose Chattanooga plant expansion will create an additional one thousand jobs in anticipation of its electric-vehicle production starting in 2022.
Lee travels to Knoxville this evening to deliver a State of East Tennessee address in the Clarence Brown Theater on the U.T campus. The event begins at 6 p.m. It’s free and open to the public. Tickets are available here.