Tennesseans will soon be hearing a lot in the coming months about “education savings accounts” or ESAs.
A proposed $25.5 million dollar education voucher program is one of the controversial signature proposals that Republican Governor Bill Lee addressed Monday night during his first State of the State address.
“We want to target this program at those districts that have the most number of failing schools,” said Lee this morning before a group of applauding county public officials.
The area targeted for now says the governor would be in the state’s urban areas.
Voucher type programs like the ESAs have failed in the past, but the governor points to support from top Republican leaders like House Speaker Glen Casada and Lt. Governor Randy McNally.
“A lot of conversations that we have had with lawmakers have been encouraging so now we want Tennesseans to understand what we are trying to do,” Governor Lee told reporters Tuesday morning.
In broad strokes, the ESA program as outlined by the Lee Administration would initially serve about 5-thousand students.
An eligible student would then get $7300 dollars annually to attend the school of their choice, but there have long been concerns among educators about the uses of the money by a student’s family.
“We like to call them vouchers on steroids because there is no accountability for it,” says Grundy County English teacher Beth Brown.
She also happens to the president of the Tennessee Education Association
“Its always concerning when you are spending Tennessee taxpayer dollars to individuals basically with no accountability and that money could be used in Tennessee public schools to help all students,” added Brown
Governor Lee maintains there will be “strong accountability” as his plan is unveiled in more detail.
“The use of the dollars will be determined by dept of education to ensure those dollars are spent only on education resources,” said the governor Tuesday morning.
The governor’s office could not give a timeline on when it will have more details of what its plans to put into the ESA bill.