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 who 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
|Families zoned to low-performing schools only||✓|
|Required to take a standardized test||✓||✓|
|Graduates can use for higher education||✓|