Tennessee Governor Unveils Bold New School Choice Initiative

The proposal would establish universal school choice.
WEAVERVILLE, CA - AUGUST 17: Students in Saundra Murphys third grade class participate in silent reading at the start of class on the first day of instruction at Weaverville Elementary School on Monday, Aug. 17, 2020 in Weaverville, CA. The Trinity Alps Unified School District reopened amid the coronavirus pandemic, resuming in-person classroom instruction. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Tennessee unveiled a broad new school choice initiative this week.

Governor Bill Lee (R) announced the Education Freedom Scholarship Act on Tuesday at the Tennessee State Museum alongside Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders (R). Arkansas adopted a universal school choice policy earlier this year.

Lee’s proposal would establish universal school choice for every public school student across the state.

Next school year, 20,000 scholarships would be available. Half of those would go to Tennessee students at or below 300% of the federal poverty line, who have a disability, or are eligible for the existing Education Savings Account pilot program.

By the school year that starts in 2025, all public school students would be eligible for a scholarship.

No bill has been formally filed in the legislature yet, but Lee said his office would work with the legislature on the “final details” when the General Assembly reconvenes in January.

Families could spend their child’s scholarship money on tuition at a private or religious school, uniforms, technology, transportation, or home school expenses. Families can also spend the money on tutoring, after school programs, and SAT and ACT exam fees.

Lee also said the scholarship program would be funded separately from Tennessee’s Investment in Student Achievement funding structure for K-12 education.

Lee said Tennessee should do two things at once — strive to have the best public school system in the country and provide families with school choice.

“These two ideas are not in conflict, and conservative states across the country are proof,” Lee said in a statement provided to The Daily Wire.


Lee added that he has “firsthand” knowledge of the benefits of school choice since his children have been in public school and private school and been homeschooled, and his wife is a teacher.

“We can all agree that every Tennessee child deserves a shot at success. Every student has unique needs and every classroom offers unique value,” Lee said. “Parents know best and should have the freedom to choose the right education for their child, regardless of income or zip code.”

Sanders praised Tennessee’s school choice plan, calling it part of “an absolute conservative education revolution in our country.”

A wave of school choice bills have worked their way through state legislatures in recent years. Arizona, Utah, Arkansas, Florida, Oklahoma, Ohio, Indiana, Iowa, South Carolina, and New Hampshire were all successful in creating or expanding school choice programs.

During the pandemic, parents across the country became frustrated with school COVID restrictions and controversial curriculum content, leading many families to pull their children out of public school permanently.

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