Posted 11/30/23

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee Tuesday backed a plan to expand beyond a three-county school voucher program for low-income kids by offering public money for private schooling statewide, regardless of family income. The initiative will need the approval of the state Legislature.

Republicans have supermajorities in both chambers, but they barely passed the current voucher program in 2019.

The current program awards eligible families around $8,100 in public tax dollars to help cover private school tuition and other preapproved expenses for up to 5,000 low-income or disabled students.

The new program Lee is proposing would make 20,000 education scholarships available next year, with half going to students who are lower income, disabled or otherwise able to participate in the current program.

Beginning with the 2025-2026 school year, Lee is proposing universal eligibility for any student entitled to attend a public school. If applications exceed available scholarship money, priority would go to lower income, public-school and returning scholarship students.

The announcement drew praise from organizations that specialize in school choice policies and groups involved in broader free market advocacy, including the local Americans for Prosperity chapter.

Tennessee consistently ranks low on per-student spending for public schools. A report from the National Education Association ranked Tennessee as 38th among the 50 states for the 2020-2021 school year.