Stephanie WhittExecutive Vice President
We know that every child is unique and learns in different ways. Unfortunately for many Tennessee children, our education system is one-size-fits-all. A ZIP code determines whether a child gets into a school that meets their unique needs or one that doesn’t. This one-size-fits-all education model may work for the vast majority of children, but many children are falling through the cracks, unable to reach their fullest potential.
Education Savings Accounts, or ESAs, empower families to customize their child’s education based on their unique needs or learning styles. With ESAs, a portion of the funding we already spend no a child’s education is placed in a savings account, and parents can use those funds to make certain approved expenses. ESAs are the education equivalent of Health Savings Accounts. Studies show that expanding choice not only improves education outcomes but also boosts local economies through higher graduation rates and income levels, as well as reduced crime rates.
What the Bill Does
Gov. Bill Lee’s proposal offers ESAs to parents who want to provide their child with an education outside their zoned public school. Parents choosing to participate the program would receive approximately $7,300 a year into their savings account. This represents approximately 75% of the BEP funding we already spent on each child; the remaining 25% would remain with the child’s zoned public school. The proposal would also offset the amount leaving the public school district for the first three years with additional funding outside the BEP. ESA funds could be used to pay for tuition at a private school, textbooks, tutoring, curriculum, transportation to and from school, testing fees, extracurricular activity fees at public schools, computer hardware, school uniforms, and education therapy. A portion of unused funds can roll over year after year, and can be applied towards the cost of that child’s college education. Current public school students in low-performing districts would be eligible to participate in the program. However, there would be an enrollment cap set at 5,000 students for the first year, which would gradually grow each year. Contact Us Beacon Impact is the 501(c)(4) advocacy partner of the Beacon Center of Tennessee, whose mission is to empower Tennesseans to reclaim control of their lives, so that they can freely pursue their version of the American Dream. Participating students would be required to take the state assessments in Math and English, parents would be surveyed about their satisfaction with the program, and graduation rates would be reported to the state, all in order to determine the program’s effectiveness.
Who This Impacts
The Gaugh family knows what it’s like to have children who learn differently. After their son Elisha spent his first few years in his zoned public school, they began to educate him at home when he reached 6th grade. They work tirelessly to provide Elisha with a well-rounded education. Elisha enjoys having a say in his educational environment and is thriving as a homeschool student. Elisha’s brother Jesse is in 3rd grade. He loves his zoned public school and enjoys spending time with friends. “We are taking two education paths, and I like how that works,” says Elisha. Indeed, even within the same family, children thrive in different learning environments. Their dad Glen added, “We are thankful to be in this position and want more families to be able to [choose their child’s educational path] as well.” Unfortunately, many families across Tennessee do not have the means or resources to give their children these same tailored options. The Tennessee Empowerment Account Act would give an important tool to families all across our state, allowing them to truly chart their child’s education path, whether that be at their zoned public school, a charter school, a private school, homeschooling, or some combination thereof. By empowering families with meaningful options, we can ensure that every Tennessee child will reach his or her fullest potential.
“Counting Dollars and Cents: The Economic Impact of a Statewide Education Savings Account Program in Tennessee.” Beacon Center of Tennessee. http://www.beacontn.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/BCN_ESAReport_v3.pdf.