Access to quality education is society’s greatest equalizer. Every child deserves access to a quality education that best fits their unique needs. However, when we 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 his or her 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 students, not systems. Tennessee began to change that paradigm in 2015 when by passing the Individualized Education Account Program for students with special needs, making the Volunteer State just the fourth in the nation to offer access to Education Savings Accounts or “ESAs”, considered to be the most state-of-the-art and modernized approach to education reform out there today. Lawmakers 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.

Most recently under the leadership of Gov. Bill Lee, Tennessee passed the Education Savings Account Program, giving 15,000 children trapped in districts with a high concentration of failing schools a real opportunity to achieve a great education, for many the first in their life.

However, much work remains to be done. While our state’s education outcomes have improved, Tennessee continues to rank in the middle of the pack in terms of education outcomes. Here’s how Tennessee can continue to give parents control of their student’s education:

  • Expand the Education Savings Account Program for students across the state, regardless of their demographic, geographic area, or income levels.
  • Expand the Individualized Education Account Program’s eligibility to include more students with special needs across the state.
  • Increase access to charter schools and other opportunities for families, particularly those in rural communities with limited options.

We challenge Tennessee 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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