Tennessee Governor Trying To Expand School Choice Bill

This week, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee introduced the Education Freedom Scholarship Act, a game-changing initiative aimed at providing greater educational options for students across the state. This announcement, made at the Tennessee State Museum on Tuesday, is aimed at establishing universal school choice for every public school student in the state.

Beginning with the next school year, students would have access to 20,000 scholarships, half of which would be earmarked for Tennessee students at or below 300% of the federal poverty line, students with disabilities, or those eligible for the existing Education Savings Account pilot program.

By the school year starting in 2025, every public school student in Tennessee will be eligible for a scholarship, ensuring that educational opportunities are accessible to all.

Under this initiative, families would have the freedom to utilize their children’s scholarship funds for various educational expenses. These expenses could include tuition at private or religious schools, acquiring technology, purchasing uniforms, covering transportation costs, or even homeschooling expenses. Additionally, families could use the scholarship money for tutoring, after-school programs, and covering SAT and ACT exam fees.

With the scholarship program, Lee believes that Tennessee can work on making its best public school system the best in the nation and, at the same time, provide families with the freedom to choose their child’s education.

“These two ideas are not in conflict, and conservative states across the country are proof of this,” he stated.

Lee, a parent himself with children in public and private schools, as well as homeschooling experience, understands firsthand the importance of school choice. His wife’s background as a teacher further underscores their commitment to providing the best education options for every child, regardless of income or zip code.

While no formal bill has been filed in the legislature as of yet, Lee emphasized that the “final details” will be worked on when the General Assembly reconvenes in January.

While he unveiled the program, the Republican governor was joined by Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, another advocate for expanding educational freedom. Arkansas had already adopted a universal school choice policy earlier this year, and Sanders has lauded Tennessee’s school choice plan as a pivotal part of “an absolute conservative education revolution in our country.”

Many Republicans and school choice advocates have nodded in approval of Lee’s plan. However, not everybody believes Lee’s scholarship plan is as noble as it sounds. For Sen. Heidi Campbell (D-TN), the measure only carries an “enticing” name and is, in fact, misleading.

Speaking to Fox News, Heidi said, “This is part of a real scam actually that’s been going on for a long time in our state. It has absolutely nothing to do with choice, despite the really enticing name. It’s not about freedom at all. It’s about getting our public schools and taking money out of our public school system so that it can be funneled inevitably to private out-of-state investors.”

Rep John Clemmons (D-TN) has also called the program “a scam.”