Governor Bill Lee wants to build on the school choice revolution in Tennessee, a state where Education Savings Accounts (ESA) are already codified but have room to grow. 

Fittingly named the Education Freedom Scholarship Act, Lee’s legislation would award potentially 20,000 students $7,000 each to attend an alternative to public school by 2024-2025. The sum would help cover private school tuition, fees, uniforms, textbooks, and curricula, as well as instructional materials, tutoring services, and computer hardware. 

Tennessee students who are at or below 300% of the federal poverty level, have a disability, or are eligible for the existing ESA program will be able to apply for the new scholarship. Another 10,000 scholarships will be granted to the general student population. Lee’s bill would represent a significant upgrade to the state’s 2019 ESA pilot program, which only applies to low and middle-income families in Chattanooga, Memphis, and Nashville. 

“Access to a high-quality education has the power to change the trajectory of a child’s life forever,” Lee declared when announcing the proposal. 

Lee’s proposed bill has more ambitious aims, too. In 2025-36, the program will eventually become universal and open to all K-12 students in Tennessee, with priority given to low-income and public school students if program demand exceeds funding.

But it has received fire from the usual enemies. Since the proposal, some state Democrats argued that education freedom is a false pretense that will rob the government-run school system of funds and unfairly enrich financiers creating and supporting private schools. 

Democratic State Senator Heidi Campbell told Fox News, “This is part of a real scam actually that’s been going on for a long time in our state.”

“It has absolutely nothing to do with choice, despite the really enticing name,” she added. 

Campbell, who has chosen a private school option for her family, falsely claimed that the $7,000 won’t make a dent in the cost of private school for most families. 

She also accused the government of Tennessee of wanting to get out of the “business” of education. In reality, Lee and state Republicans want a higher quality education for Tennessee’s children. After Covid-19, Tennessee’s students fared better than others in terms of academic performance. 

State-level results from June showed an overall increase in proficiency since 2022 for Tennessee public school kids and a large leap since 2021, the year when test scores plummeted following the school closures and learning disruption of COVID-19. However, minority, low-income, and disabled students are still struggling to recover- a common theme across the nation. They, most of all, deserve better education opportunities and prospects. 

Empowering families to take their tax dollars and vote with their feet, thereby introducing competition to the K-12 monopoly, is the only way to improve public education. 

Especially after many school districts’ mismanagement of the pandemic, parents are fleeing the public school system. That should have put administrators and school boards on notice months ago. But still, the teachers’ unions, who seek to benefit from a school system flush with spending waste, demand states double their investments in a failing product.