Nationwide, there are over ten Education Saving Accounts (ESA) expansion bills in current state legislative sessions, and Tennessee may soon join the list. The Volunteer State may expand its current targeted ESAs (passed in 2015), which provides scholarships to students with specific special needs to access necessary educational services. Only about 2 percent of students in the state are eligible for the current program.
A December 2018 study from the Beacon Center for Tennessee found that implementing a broad, statewide ESA program in 2019 could result in many economic and societal benefits to the state by 2038. The study found that a broad ESA program could increase the number of high school graduates in Tennessee, leading to anywhere from $2.9 to $4.5 billion in economic benefits, depending on the percentage of students who participate. It could also increase overall personal income in the state by $683 million to $1 billion. Finally, the study found it could potentially reduce the number of felons and misdemeanants to produce benefits ranging from $685 million to $1.1 billion.
A broad ESA program could bring about millions, possibly billions, of economic benefits to Tennessee because of better educational outcomes. As Missouri considers options for better serving students and families, it should recognize the need for more access to educational choice and the economic benefits an ESA program could create.