From State Representative Dennis Powers

Tennessee has made considerable progress improving education for the future leaders of our state. In recent years, House Republicans have invested $1.3 billion new education dollars into our schools. Because of this commitment to education and the policies put into effect with these funds, our students are the fastest improving in the entire nation across math, reading, and science.

Indeed, this improvement results from the tremendous efforts of teachers, administrators and students and is worthy of pride. Sadly, Tennessee still ranks near the bottom third in the nation, which is why we must do more to help our students, teachers, and schools.

During the 111th General Assembly, my colleagues and I are partnering with Governor Lee to implement a comprehensive education plan to build upon recent educational gains. This includes a total investment of $11.3 billion for FY 2019-2020. Of that total investment, $6.5 billion will directly benefit K-12 education in our public schools. This includes $71 million in pay raises, approximately $39.6 million to fully fund the state’s Basic Education Program (BEP) to cover growth and inflation in the funding formula, and another $50 million to help secure our schools.

While these are important investments, we must not forget about students in our underperforming schools to ensure they have resources and programs needed to obtain a high-quality education that best fits their unique needs. That is why I support the Governor’s Education Savings Account (ESA) program created through House Bill 939.

House Bill 939 is a conservative solution to assist children who have been held back by years of mismanagement within the worst of our worst schools. The program will have no negative financial impact on our local districts and is strictly limited to four Tennessee counties — Davidson, Hamilton, Knox, and Shelby Counties — that have been historically recognized in the bottom 10 percent of all schools in the state and across our country. These districts have locked many generations of our children into cycles of failure, and House Bill 939 provides an opportunity to finally end these cycles by continuing our state’s education transformation.

The pilot created through House Bill 939 is capped at 15,000 students. It will also create additional funding for our schools through a grant process so our local children, teachers, and schools will have access to new resources that will strengthen recent, successful academic outcomes. Benefits offered through the ESA pilot will cease when an eligible recipient moves outside of an eligible district, or when they are removed from school for bad conduct or other disruptive behavior.

Additionally, House Bill 939 includes several anti-fraud protections, such as limiting expenditures to pre-approved purchases, which are very narrowly defined. The Tennessee Department of Education is authorized to recoup any misused assets, implement fraud mitigation efforts, and to refer bad actors for criminal prosecution. Parents of applicants or applicants themselves must also meet citizenship requirements through the E-verify system. This ESA pilot is also subject to annual reporting requirements, as well as comptroller auditing.

This conservative student and parent-centered solution will ultimately begin addressing significant problems caused by years of negligence in schools within these four urban areas by offering new opportunities for academic successful for a small group of Tennessee’s next generation of leaders.

The status quo is not working, and we must continue to overhaul our education system so that students have an opportunity to receive the educations they deserve. I am pleased to support House Bill 939 because it is an innovative solution that will allow Tennessee to continue to lead our great nation, transforming the academic trajectories of our current and future students.

Powers adds:   The Senate version only contains two counties, Shelby and Davidson, so that may change when it goes to a conference committee.  The 91 other counties will actually receive additional funds if they have a priority school in their district. The $25M will be allocated to help those priority schools based on a formula in the bill.  (WLAF NEWS PUBLISHED – 04/29/2019-6AM)