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Tennessee Lawmakers Send Bill Creating New School Funding Accounts for Students with Special Needs to Governor Haslam

April 23, 2015

Nashville—Last night, on the last day of its session, the Tennessee Legislature passed SB 27, the Individualized Education Act. Governor Haslam will have 10 days to sign or veto the bill once it reaches his desk. The bill was sponsored by Sen. Dolores R. Gresham and Rep. Deborah Moody.

This new law will create state-funded accounts of approximately $6,500 that families of special needs students can use to pay for educational therapies, tutoring, online curriculum and even private school tuition.

“Children with special needs across Tennessee—children that families and policymakers and the media in that state have known for years were falling through the cracks—now will have better educational opportunities,” said Jonathan Butcher, the education policy director at the Goldwater Institute. “This new program gives these children the chance at a brighter future.”

Tennessee becomes the fourth state in the country to pass these unique accounts for families with special needs students. The law was first put into place in Arizona five years ago and was adopted last year in Florida. Arizona’s program is open to students with special needs, students in failing schools, and from active duty military or foster care families. Last month lawmakers passed an expansion of the program to include all students living on Native American reservations. About 1,200 students in Arizona are using the program this school year. About 1,800 special needs students are using Florida’s program. Mississippi lawmakers passed a similar program just weeks ago.

The Goldwater Institute proposed the idea of a state-funded bank account for K-12 education expenses a decade ago, and has continued to research, develop and refine the idea and legislative language. The Institute regularly hosts delegations of state lawmakers so they can learn about these “education savings accounts” and see first hand the impact they are making on families lives. Lawmakers from Tennessee visited Arizona in 2014 to learn more about the program. This year, lawmakers in a dozen states are considering similar accounts.

“The groups working on the ground in Tennessee—especially the Beacon Center, Senator Gresham and Rep. Moody—deserve a tremendous amount of credit for the work they have done to bring this policy to the Volunteer State. Special needs students will be the beneficiaries of their hard work,” said Butcher.

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