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Competing Tennessee ESA proposal set for Wednesday committee discussions

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(The Center Square) – The Tennessee Legislature’s debate on education savings accounts will continue Wednesday when competing versions of the bill are heard by the Senate Education Committee and House Education Administration.

Both versions involve a significant number of the ESAs, which will start at $7,075 and can be spent by students and families on school-related expenses such as private school tuition.

Both proposals involve 20,000 ESAs statewide starting in the fall with eligibility determined on some level by income.

The federal poverty level is $32,000 for a family of four. House Bill 1183 has a priority system where eligible students are those with family income of $128,000 or less per family of four first, then those at $160,000 or less for a family of four before it is open to all students.

Senate Bill 503 has 10,000 ESAs for students with family incomes of $96,000 or less for a family of four and 10,000 for all students.

Overall, the Senate Education Freedom Scholarship program is estimated to cost nearly $100,000 in the first year and then more than $300,000 annually in subsequent years.

A major difference in the Senate version is it allows students to use the ESAs to enroll in a public school outside their home district as well.

The estimated impact on transferred public school funding is $48.5 million in the first year and more than $107 million in the years after.

Gov. Bill Lee’s budget proposal set aside $144.2 million in funding for the program next fiscal year.

The House version is an all-encompassing education bill that will cost an additional nearly $400,000 annually to state taxpayers while local governments will receive nearly $200,000 additionally each year.

Both proposals estimate that 40% of the scholarships will go to students currently in public school and 60% will go to those currently enrolled in private schools.

If the two bodies do not reach agreement before a vote in the full House and Senate, the bill could end up in conference committee to determine what aspects of each proposal will remain before it potentially goes to Lee.