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Education Savings Account (ESA) Program

Tennessee’s Education Savings Account (ESA) program is planned to launch for the 2020-21 school year in Davidson and Shelby counties. With the ESA program, eligible students assigned to schools in Davidson County, Shelby County, or the Achievement School District can use state and local Basic Education Program (BEP) funds toward expenses, such as tuition or fees, at participating private schools.

Public Chapter 506, which was passed by the Tennessee General Assembly and signed by Governor Bill Lee in spring 2019, established the ESA program, providing additional education choices for students. Gov. Bill Lee, in his first State of the State address before a joint session of the 111th Tennessee General Assembly on March 4, 2019, said, “Low income students deserve the same opportunity as every other kid in this state, and we will need a bold plan that will help level the playing field. We need to challenge the status quo, increase competition, and not slow down until every student in Tennessee has access to a great education. We’re not going to get big results from our struggling schools by nibbling around the edges. That is why we need education savings accounts in Tennessee this year.”

Currently, the draft rules of the program are available for public comment. The bill’s legislative history can be found here.

Quick Facts about the Tennessee Education Savings Account Program:

  • In the 2020-21 school year, each eligible, participating student will receive approximately $7,100.
  • To be eligible, a student must be:
    • A Tennessee resident in kindergarten through grade 12
    • Zoned to attend a school in Shelby County Schools, Metro Nashville Public Schools, or are zoned to attend a school that was in the Achievement School District (ASD) on May 24, 2019
    • A member of a household with an annual income for the previous year that does not exceed twice the federal income eligibility guidelines for free lunch. For example, the income for a family of four could not exceed $66,950. Note: Students identified as “at-risk” as defined in Tennessee Code Annotated will automatically satisfy the income requirements for eligibility.
    • Additionally, students must meet one of these requirements:
    • Previously enrolled in and attended a Tennessee public school for the one full school year immediately preceding the school year for which the student receives an ESA; or
    • Eligible for the first time to enroll in a Tennessee school; or
    • Received an ESA in the previous school year
  • Enrollment will be limited to 5,000 students in its initial year. The cap will increase to 10,000 students in the second year, and 15,000 in the third year.
  • Private schools that are considered Category I, II, or III will be able to apply to the Tennessee Department of Education to become a participating ESA school.
    • Category I: Schools approved by the Tennessee Department of Education
    • Category II: Schools approved by a private school accrediting agency which has been approved by the Tennessee State Board of Education.
    • Category III: Schools that are regionally accredited (by, for example, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools or by an independent accrediting organization such as AdvancEd/Cognia)

Key Dates

Oct. 1, 2019 at 1 p.m.
SBE Education Savings Account (ESA) Rulemaking Hearing
Tennessee Board of Regents, 1 Bridgestone Park, Nashville, TN 37214

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