Gov. Lee’s School Choice Agenda Gains Momentum in Tennessee General Assembly

Praise for education savings accounts, charter schools
Wednesday, March 20, 2019 | 06:29pm

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee’s charter school bill passed in both the Tennessee General Assembly House and Senate education committees just one day after Gov. Lee’s education savings account proposal advanced from the House curriculum subcommittee. 

“With the legislature’s hard work, school choice has momentum and we are working together to put students first and strengthen our public education system,” said Lee. “Low-income students deserve the same opportunities and we have a bold plan that levels the playing field while also focusing improvement on the lowest-performing school districts.”

Parents, legislators, educators and advocates from across the state praised Gov. Lee’s efforts to focus on students and expand educational opportunity.

Support for Gov. Lee’s School Choice Agenda

“Gov. Lee’s full education agenda is exceptional for students in Memphis and across our state. By investing $71 million in teacher pay raises and an additional $5 million into improving student and teacher support in our priority schools, he is making clear he is willing to do whatever it takes for Tennessee’s students. While I’ve always been against vouchers, Governor Lee’s comprehensive approach to giving more freedom and flexibility to students and families through Education Savings Accounts and further investment in our schools is the bold and innovative reform our state needs to ensure every child has access to a quality education.”

Cato Johnson, former Chairman of Tennessee Higher Education Commission and former member of the State Board of Education, Shelby County

“I support Gov. Lee’s bold plan to introduce a better way to educate children in Tennessee. As a mother and grandmother, I believed that we must create a better way especially for minority children. Charter schools and ESAs will continue to open doors for students that have been marginalized by educational opportunities.”

Latonya Bell, concerned Nashville parent

“As a mother, wife, entrepreneur, and native Tennessean, I know firsthand the power of education, and the tremendous impact it has on generations of Tennesseans. I believe we can not only rebuild a stronger foundation for our youth by creating new pathways for education, such as utilizing educational savings accounts; we can deliver innovative regional solutions that meet the specific needs of students and parents across all of Tennessee. By supporting the ESA program, we can provide an essential piece to the puzzle and empower parents to provide customized solutions for their children’s future.”

Tessa Eades, concerned Nashville parent and advocate


“I am grateful for Gov. Lee's efforts to provide alternatives for students who might otherwise be denied an opportunity for a great education. As Senate Majority Leader, I am the proud and enthusiastic sponsor of this important legislation.”

Sen. Jack Johnson, Senate Majority Leader, District 23

“I fully support the governor’s initiatives on expanding educational opportunities for children and look forward to our continued collaboration going forward.”
Rep. William Lamberth, House Majority Leader, District 44

“Having been on the education committee for seven years, I appreciate that Gov. Lee is focused on ensuring Tennessee’s education system is serving every student in our state. His bold agenda supporting students, teachers, families, and education leaders will help Tennessee lead the nation with a strong educated workforce and a stronger economy.”

Rep. Mark White, House Education Committee Chair, District 83

“I’m excited that the opportunity for families to have a choice in securing the best education for their child is moving forward.”
Rep. Bill Dunn, District 16

“I applaud Gov. Lee’s bold education agenda to invest in our state’s students, teachers and families. From pay raises for teachers, support for rural school leaders, investment in CTE and STEM, more choice for families with accountable charter schools and education savings accounts, Gov. Lee is spurring innovation so that all our schools improve in preparing every student for the jobs of tomorrow.”
Marlon King, educator, leader and parent

“I have a really hard time telling parents that their money shouldn’t be used for their students, their children. I have a hard time explaining to them why they have to continue to leave their child in a school that has been failing for the past 30 years.”

Rhonda Thurman, Hamilton County School Board Member

“I support any move Gov. Lee can make toward giving more parents more choices in the educational process for their children. Parents have had too few choices for too long. We need significant change for there to be significant progress in results for our children across our state. I fully support Gov. Lee’s Tennessee Education Savings Accounts.”
Dan Chord, Board Member of Independent School in Bradley County

"Tennessee students are so lucky that Gov. Lee is taking a ‘by any means necessary’ approach to ensuring that all children will have access to great schools. His charter school authorization legislation will accelerate the creation of highly effective schools across the state, just as our charter school program has done in Nashville. And for those students still without excellent options, Education Savings Accounts will empower our most economically disadvantaged families with the means to secure good schooling for their children, just as more affluent parents already do. Both proposals make it clear that Gov. Lee is applying as much concern for the state’s children as he has for his own children and grandchildren. We can’t ask for more than that."

David Fox, Former Chairman of Metro Nashville Public Schools


“According to the Tennessee Department of Education’s report card, only 35.8 percent are college ready. That number is cut in half when you look at black, Hispanic and Native American students and students who are economically disadvantaged. Gov. Lee’s approach in using ESAs will reach those regardless of zip code.”

Tommy Vallejos, community activist and pastor, Clarksville

“This charter school proposal by Gov. Lee would take the politics out of the process and put the focus back on kids. We have seen our local district deny applications for charter schools we believe would work for our students. The bottom line is we need more great schools.”

Sarah Carpenter, Executive Director of The Memphis Lift

“As educators, we should be driven by what is best for students. The ESA bill is 100% student-centered. It allows parents the choice to help their children get a better education at a school that is the best fit for their child.”
Sean Corcoran, Head of School at Brainerd Baptist School in Chattanooga

“Giving parents greater access to additional quality options for their child's education is always beneficial. Making education savings accounts a reality for families in Memphis and across the State would be a good thing. We must do everything we can to help all students succeed.”

Tom Marino, Executive Director at Poplar Foundation

“At the Tennessee Charter School Center, we believe that establishing a high quality independent statewide appellate authorizer, founded on best practices, will ensure that decisions to open charter schools in Tennessee are based on what is best for students, not politics.”

Maya Bugg, CEO of Tennessee Charter School Center

“Tennessee’s public charter schools are spurring innovation that is helping to drive greater achievement and success for thousands of Tennessee students. Gov. Lee’s initiative that would create the Tennessee Public Charter School Commission would help expand great public school options that have proven to be effective for students and continue the fast student achievement growth we have seen since 2011.”

David Mansouri, President & CEO, SCORE