Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee (Republican), in his sixth State of the State address earlier this month, declared that “2024 is the year to make school choice a reality for every Tennessee family.” Gov. Lee rightly acknowledged that “parents know what’s best for their child’s education.” He continued:

There are thousands of parents in this state who know their student would thrive in a different setting, but the financial barrier is simply too high. It’s time that we change that. It’s time that parents get to decide – and not the government – where their child goes to school and what they learn.

Additionally, in his address, Gov. Lee debunked the notion that providing parents with school choice results in fewer resources for public schools. As one example, under his tenure, Tennessee has increased public education funding by more than $1.8 billion. Gov. Lee explained, “We can give parents choice and support public schools at the same time…these two ideas are not in conflict.”

With a Republican 74-24 supermajority in the House of Representatives and a Republican 27-6 supermajority in the Senate, it is time for Tennessee to fulfill Gov. Lee’s vision by granting all families statewide education freedom.

Yet even in the deep red state of Tennessee, there are those beholden to the teachers unions that fight to keep children locked in public schools whose parents can’t provide homeschooling or the money for tuition.

Arizona former Gov. Doug Ducey stated this reality with profound clarity in his eighth State of the State Address in 2022, just months prior to signing universal school choice into law:

Fifty-plus years ago politicians stood in the schoolhouse door and wouldn’t let minorities in, today union-backed politicians stand in the schoolhouse door and won’t let minorities out. Many of our poor kids and children of color are trapped in a failing school. It’s time to set these families free.

Universal school choice empowers all families, regardless of socioeconomic status, with the freedom to select the educational avenue that is best for their child. It returns the decision-making to parents who know and love their children the most — including the right education fit for them.

The specifics of the universal education freedom proposed legislation in Tennessee are yet to be known. But there are indicators based on Gov. Lee’s November 2023 announcement for a statewide education savings account (ESA) program that in the first year would extend to 20,000 students, then starting in year two the ESA would become unlimited. The amount of the ESA is anticipated to be around $7,000, which can be applied toward private school tuition and other educational expenses.

Additionally, an ESA bill was accidentally filed recently but retracted nearly immediately. House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Ray Clemmons asserts the delay is because Republicans don’t have enough votes to pass what he calls a ‘voucher scam.’

Republican Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson is confident the proposal will be presented soon, stating, “The governor has gone to great lengths to meet with stakeholders and experts to ensure the language is solid, reasonable, and consistent with Tennessee’s outstanding record of fiscal responsibility.”

Delay or not, one thing is certain, Tennessee is poised to get a robust ESA bill presented, passed, and signed into law this legislative session unless a significant number of Republican lawmakers vote against it. Despite intense hostility from the opposition, those in alignment with Gov. Lee look to have the votes in the House and Senate to get the job done — and Tennessee families and the state will be better for it, repeating the benefits for decades and even generations to come.