The Weakley County School Board heard updates from host site Martin Elementary and the county’s school nutrition program and an assessment of current proposed legislation before the Tennessee General Assembly at April’s monthly meeting. See the April 9 edition of The Press for details on the night’s presentations.
As part of the update from Randy Frazier, the Weakley County Schools Director read from an email of talking points regarding legislation for proposed Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) he sent to county commissioners and school board members. He also told those in attendance at the meeting that he would share the information with anyone interested in addressing the issue with their legislators. The email included the following “Facts about Education Savings Accounts”:
- Students who live in a district with at least three schools in the bottom 10 percent in the state are eligible to receive an ESA in the amount of $7,300 per year to attend private schools. These rankings are based on annual academic performance [of the school].
- Students with an annual family income up to 200 percent of the free lunch requirement are eligible for an ESA (up to $67,000 per year for a family of four).
- Both state and local portions of the per pupil funding follows the student to the private school.
- Students will continue to be eligible for an ESA even if their circumstances change. Examples: They move out of the district or their family income increases above the limit.
- The district where the student resides at the time of the enrollment in the ESA program will be responsible for the local BEP [Basic Education Program] funding for as long as the student receives an ESA. This will be true even when the student transfers to another district.
- Students receiving an ESA are required to take the Math and Language Arts TNReady assessments each year. This is a tremendous reduction compared to the mandated state testing requirements for public school children.
- The number of ESAs will be capped at 5,000 the first year and increase to 15,000 over a five-year period. Gov. Bill Lee has proposed a $25 million budget the first year and $125 million for year five. (5,000 x $7,300 =$36,500,000)
- Many of the approved private schools are online. Students can be enrolled in school and stay at home.
- Private schools will not be required to admit students receiving ESAs. Private schools will determine who they accept.
- Annual unused ESA funds will remain in the student’s account and can be used for postsecondary funding. (College and Technical School tuition)
“In my tenure as director of Weakley County Schools, it has been the norm for the state to increase funding for education in one area while cutting or eliminating school funding in another area. This strategy increases the financial burden on the local funding body and their taxpayers,” he wrote and repeated at the school board meeting.
“The BEP is underfunded, an additional $125 million would go a long way in helping pay for nurses, SROs [School Resource Officers], and other unfunded positions. I do not support this bill,” Frazier added.
For details on other actions taken during the monthly meeting, see the April 9 edition of the Weakley County Press.