Laura Faith Kebede

Laura Faith Kebede covers Memphis schools for Chalkbeat Tennessee. She is a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and most recently covered county government, schools and religion at the Richmond Times-Dispatch in Virginia.

How Tennessee’s latest voucher proposal differs from past plans

By Updated: March 21, 2019 9:44 PM CT | Published: March 21, 2019 5:11 PM CT

The introduction of education savings accounts in the Tennessee Legislature has raised some questions about the differences between the savings accounts and state-funded vouchers for private-school tuition.

Whether or not to allow traditional vouchers in the state of Tennessee has been debated for more than a decade. (The state already allows vouchers for students with disabilities known as Individualized Education Accounts.)

The biggest difference – and most costly for parents – is that traditional vouchers would have covered all tuition costs, although not other school fees or services. Education savings accounts would not necessarily cover all of a student’s private-school tuition.

Education savings accounts, a form of vouchers, are loaded with an average of $7,300. As proposed, parents will be able to spend that taxpayer money on a wide range of services,  including tutoring, online courses and even computer equipment.

Another big difference is which families are eligible to participate. The last version of a voucher bill in 2017 limited participation to families zoned to a school in the bottom 5 percent statewide, who overwhelmingly have low incomes.

But Lee’s proposal increases the threshold of school performance and can include families zoned to the entire district – not just to the low-performing school. Specifically, a family of four that earns up to $92,000 and lives in a school district with three or more schools in the bottom 10 percent would qualify for an education savings account.

Both education savings accounts and vouchers require parents to pull their child from public schools before enrolling in the program. Below is a quick summary of the major differences between the most recent voucher proposal in Tennessee and Lee’s bill for education savings accounts.

Tennessee education savings accounts and vouchers

  Vouchers ESAs
Full tuition x  
Families zoned to low-performing schools only x  
Required to take a standardized test x x
Homeschool curriculum   x
Tutoring   x
Online classes   x
Graduates can use for higher education   x

Originally posted on Chalkbeat by on March 21, 2019. Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.


Education Savings Accounts Vouchers

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