Conservative Capitols Championing Choice


January 31, 2023 8:13AM

This year is off to a successful start when it comes to educational choice. Following West Virginia’s near-universal education savings account (ESA) program in 2021 and Arizona’s monumental passage of the first universal ESA program last year, Iowa became the second state in the nation to pass universal ESA legislation on January 24. This new program was heralded by Iowa’s conservative governor and quickly passed the deep red legislature, taking less than two weeks to become law.

Conservative politicians around the country have begun to embrace these programs, going beyond rhetoric by pushing legislation that allows for new educational options for all students. These bills are highly popular with the public because they give parents a portion of their education tax dollars to send their child to the school that fits their unique needs. Especially after seeing how public schools responded to the pandemic, parents and legislators have started to demand more educational options for students.

Shortly after Iowa passed its universal ESA program, Utah legislators passed a similar program to expand these educational options statewide. Other deep red states like Texas and Idaho are also bringing forth wide-reaching educational choice legislation. These actions have solidified that conservative legislators around the nation are all in for educational choice. Unfortunately, for several years, wide-reaching school choice legislation has fallen short in the Volunteer State.

Here in Tennessee, even with a Republican supermajority, the legislature only narrowly passed an ESA pilot program in 2019. The program was then held up in the courts until it was upheld as constitutional in 2022, finally giving educational choice to a limited number of families. Though Tennessee has had a Republican supermajority for over a decade – and larger majorities than Iowa – Republican legislators in Nashville have only nibbled at the edges of such programs.

It’s time for Tennessee legislators to finally stand against special interests that seek to prevent students from finding other options other than the school systems that have failed them again and again. Tennessee Republicans in particular should follow through with what they espouse: that parents, not government, know what is best for their children. It’s time to go all in on funding students over systems and stop letting Tennessee be surpassed by other conservative legislatures around the nation when it comes to education.