Tennessee education savings account plan to cost $25M over next 5 years

Posted at 3:46 PM, Mar 14, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-15 19:28:08-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Gov. Bill Lee says his school voucher plan will now cost $125 million over the next five years in his pursuit to allow more parents to use state funds to pay for their children's private education.

According to the proposal provided Thursday, parents of students in certain low-income school districts could receive $7,300 to pay for approved expenses.

The governor announced the initial investment in the program would be $25 million in 2019. However, the plan calls for an additional $25 million until the program launches in 2021. This means the program will have accrued $75 million by its first year. The plan is to then invest an additional $25 million each year the program exists.

Enrollment would be limited to 5,000 students in its initial year, but the cap would increase by 2,500 students if the enrollment maximum is met in the following year.

People with the governor's administration say they don't expect to reach the 5,000 student cap in the first year.

If that cap is reached and the program expanded, the program has language that would allow it to add more money to the yearly investment.

One of the program priorities is to enroll students who come from economically challenged families. One requirement is that the student is in a district that's in the bottom 10% in the state and a family can make up to 200% of the income requirement for free and reduced lunch.

The program is funded through the Basic Education Program (BEP) which is how state education dollars are generated and distributed to Tennessee schools.

It also creates what's called a student transition fund that, for the first three years, will reimburse school districts for the full amount of the ESA for any student that leaves the district.