Tennessee’s Wake-Up Call for Education Reform


July 6, 2023 5:50AM

This morning the Beacon Center released our first non-partisan statewide poll which will be the first poll to be released quarterly throughout the state. The focus of this poll was to gain insight into what Tennesseans truly think about what’s going on in the state, and in the country.

The poll examined nationally relevant issues like Tennesseans’ participation in the Bud Light boycott, opinions on the expulsion of Tennessee House Representatives Justin Jones and Justin Pearson, and the 2024 Presidential election. However, it was important that we also asked policy questions that impact everyday Tennesseans. To that end, we made sure to ask about their opinions on the K-12 public and private education system. Results from these questions demonstrated Tennesseans are overwhelmingly supportive of more school choice, an issue that Beacon has championed for over ten years.

On our 2022 listening tour, the Beacon Center recognized the Education Savings Account (ESA) program as an important cause for Tennesseans. In light of this, the Tennessee legislature’s expansion of the ESA program to Hamilton county during their 2023 session came as a success to us. Tennesseans’ priority of education prevailed again in our poll as 69% approve the further expansion of the ESA program to the rest of the state while only 17% oppose it. This approval rate includes 61% of Democrats as well.

The ESA program serves as one piece of Beacon’s puzzle for education reform alongside the expansion of charter schools throughout the state. Similarly, 64% of all respondents approve expanding charter schools to all counties in Tennessee. This data aligns with the fact that every public charter school in Tennessee saw enrollment growth in the last year according to Beacon’s report, Charter Conversation Starter.

Support for charter schools encompasses all divisions of Tennessee with 55% approval in East Tennessee, 68% in Middle Tennessee, and 73% in West Tennessee.

The approval of expanding charter schools to all counties in Tennessee arises from a growing understanding that education is not one-size-fits-all. Students have varying needs and Tennesseans believe that our education system ought to reflect that. 77% of all respondents agree that more private and public education opportunities are needed in K-12 education in Tennessee.

This response conveys bi-partisan support with 76% of Republicans as well as 72% of Democrats agreeing with the need for expansion. Likewise, when asked about their satisfaction with the current K-12 public education options in Tennessee, 56% of Tennesseans are dissatisfied while only 36% are satisfied.

We have made strides in expanding the ESA program and charter schools, but this work has only just begun. Tennesseans support the further expansion of both programs to all counties. Ultimately this will allow more parents to not only choose, but also afford a school that meets their children’s unique, individual needs. This new polling data highlights what we’ve always known—parents want a choice when it comes to their child’s education.

View full poll and explore dynamic polling results here: