MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) – The controversial TN Education Savings Account (ESA) scheme, commonly known as school vouchers, comes into effect this coming school year after a chancery judge lifted the injunction on the scheme at the start of the month.
Only two counties in TN meet the criteria: Shelby and Davidson.
According to the ESA FAQ for the 2022-2023 school year, each student will receive $8,192 to attend a private school.
These are public education funds that would have been paid to the school/school district a student is currently attending.
In this case, that’s ~$8,200 per student that would have gone to Memphis Shelby County Schools (MSCS).
“They don’t even know the impact,” said Keith Williams, executive director of the Memphis Shelby County Education Association. “They don’t know the number of students, so the district may not be able to operate if a significant number of students or parents choose this option.”
This year’s cap is set at 5,000 students in total, who will be left to an enrollment lottery if the number of eligible applications exceeds this number.
In theory, if the two counties were to split the cap, that would amount to about $20.5 million in funding that would be taken from the MSCS.
A Memphis superintendent, however, supports Governor Bill Lee and the ESA program.
“(ESA) is the future of education in the United States,” said Nic Antoine, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Diocese of Memphis.
Antoine has experience with school voucher programs.
As an administrator in Racine County, Wisconsin in the early 2010s, Antoine watched Governor Scott Walker implement a voucher program similar to the one Governor Lee is implementing in Tennessee.
“I saw the good, the bad and the ugly of it, but the good far outweighed the bad,” Antoine said. “We probably enrolled, in those first two years, at least 500 students.”
The $8,200 voucher would cover tuition, fees, and additional costs for several schools in the Diocese of Memphis, such as Holy Rosary (~$7,200), St. Ann’s (~$7,000), and St. Francis of Assisi ($8,000) to name a few.
Even with schools like St. Benedict at Auburndale High School, which has tuition of $12,500, the remaining $4,300 would be covered by the $400,000 the school sets aside for tuition assistance. schooling.
Antoine said the Diocese of Memphis is also setting aside about $1 million in scholarships and grants to help out as well.
“We’re going to get there, and we just want the public to know that the diocese is working in cooperation with the state,” Antoine said. “It’s a boom for us, but it’s also a boom for parents. (Vouchers) are that initial payment and then we’ll make that final payment (through scholarships) to hopefully help out. »
It is the Catholic families in Shelby County – dozens, if not hundreds, according to Antoine, who want to attend Catholic schools but cannot afford the tuition, who will benefit from this program, along with the underserved communities.
“You think of neighborhoods in Memphis that are particularly hard hit by poverty. What is their future to get out of it? It’s education, and that’s why we’re doing it. That’s why Governor Lee is doing this,” Antoine said.
The Catholic School Superintendent believes this program can open doors for working with public school districts, especially the MSCS, to create a better educational environment for students.
“Why shouldn’t parents have the choice to send their child to the best, most suitable place?” asked Anthony. “It may be a public school, but we just want to let them know that there are Catholic schools here. We have excellent faith-based training in all of our schools. We are open and would love to have you.
With less than three weeks to go until the school year begins for the Diocese of Memphis, Antoine believes the school district will see a small sample of interested students.
Over the next two years, he expects the cap to be reached and potentially extended.
This was the case in Wisconsin, which now has an unlimited cap.
“I see, next year, 500 students in our schools, maybe more,” said Antoine.
Regarding religious affiliation, Antoine notes that approximately 40% of students in the school district are non-Catholic.
Antione said Monday is the deadline for expressing interest on the state’s ESA website, but parents can still contact any of the Catholic schools about the ESA program until the first school day.
The first day of school for the Diocese of Memphis is August 10.
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