In 2015, Tennessee proved that it’s ready for true education reform by passing the Individualized Education Account program (IEAs) for students with special needs—making the Volunteer State just the fourth in the nation to pass these savings accounts (otherwise known as Education Savings Accounts or “ESAs”), considered to be the most state-of-the-art and modernized approach to education reform out there today. We followed that victory with another win for Tennessee families by passing the Course Access Program in 2016—a program that gives public high school students statewide access to course curriculum not offered at their individual school.

Yet, despite these exciting steps, Tennessee is still leaving behind the thousands of students across our state who continue to languish in schools that aren’t meeting their needs. While we continue to rely on a ZIP code to determine a child’s access to education, we trap low- and middle-income families in a system with no options. If a child is zoned for a school that can’t meet their unique needs, that family’s only option is to take the financial responsibility upon themselves find an alternative for that student—a cost barrier that prevents the majority of families across the state from being able to send their child to the school that best suits their needs and prepares them for a bright future.

The Beacon Center believes the state should fund children, not systems. Here’s how Tennessee can put parents back in the driver’s seat of their student’s education:

  • Expand the Individualized Education Account program’s eligibility to include more student populations across the state.
  • Allow third-party providers such as universities and trade schools to expand the number of courses offered in the new Course Access Program.
  • Pass a robust education savings account program for students across the state, regardless of their demographic, geographic area, or income levels.

We challenge lawmakers to commit to the above agenda and embrace the changes necessary to expand the horizons of hope for our future generations.

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