Testimony Before the Tennessee Senate Education Committee on the Tennessee Education Savings Accounts Act

Published April 10, 2019

Chairwoman Gresham and Members of the Committee:

Thank you for taking the time to discuss the creation of education savings accounts for low-income students and students zoned to the lowest-performing public schools. The Heartland Institute is a 34-year-old independent, national, nonprofit organization whose mission is to discover, develop, and promote free-market solutions to social and economic problems.

Heartland is headquartered in Illinois and focuses on providing national, state, and local elected officials with reliable and timely research and analyses on important policy issues. Heartland would like to submit the following testimony in support of education savings accounts.

Although the current bill caps the maximum number of ESAs, the following conclusions from a January 2019 Beacon Center report[1] provides some of the benefits you can expect if you decide to create the proposed ESA program, even with its limitations:

  • Increase in high school graduation rates
  • Increase in personal income
  • Increase economic benefits for the state
  • Higher lifetime earning potential for ESA students
  • Reduction in the number of felons and misdemeanants
  • Reduction in social costs due to less criminal activity

Empirical research[2] on ESAs and other school choice programs shows they offer families improved access to high-quality schools that meet their children’s unique needs and circumstances. These programs improve access to schools that deliver quality education inexpensively.[3] Additionally, these programs benefit public school students[4] and taxpayers by increasing competition, decreasing segregation,[5] and improving civic values.[6] 

Students at private schools are less likely[7] than their public school peers to experience problems such as alcohol abuse, bullying, drug use, fighting, gang activity, racial tension, theft, vandalism, or weapon-based threats. There is also a strong causal link[8] suggesting private school choice programs such as ESAs improve the mental health of participating students.

In the Volunteer State, an American Federation for Children survey[9] of Tennessee voters conducted in February 2019 found 78 percent of voters support ESAs. Support for ESAs is also high and fairly uniform by region. ESAs received 79 percent support from voters in East Tennessee, 78 percent from Middle Tennessee, and 75 percent from West Tennessee.

Seventy-nine percent of African-American parents with incomes lower than $40,000 per year support ESA programs. Similarly, 70 percent of Hispanics with incomes below $40,000 said they support ESAs and 72 percent of self-identified Democrats in the same income bracket reported they support ESAs. Seventy-seven percent of independents in the same income bracket say they support ESAs.

The school a child attends should not be determined solely by his or her ZIP code. The goal of public education in the Volunteer State should be to enable all parents, no matter their income level, to choose which schools their children attend. Public schools should not hold a monopoly on education because they simply cannot serve the individual educational needs of all children. By implementing a universal ESA program, lawmakers could help ensure every child has the opportunity to attend a quality school.

Thank you for your time today.

For more information about The Heartland Institute’s work, please visit our websites at www.heartland.org or http:/news.heartland.org, or call Lennie Jarratt at 312/377-4000. You can reach Lennie Jarratt by email at [email protected].


[1] Corey DeAngelis and Will Flanders, Counting Dollars and Cents: The Economic Impact of a Statewide Education Savings Account Program in Tennessee, Beacon Center of Tennessee, December 6, 2018, http://www.beacontn.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/BCN_ESAReport_v3.pdf.

[2] Greg Forster, A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Choice, EdChoice, May 2016, http://www.edchoice.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/A-Win-Win-Solution-The-Empirical-Evidence-on-School-Choice.pdf.

[3] “How does school choice affect public schools’ funding and resources?,” EdChoice, https://www.edchoice.org/school_choice_faqs/how-does-school-choice-affect-public-schools-funding-and-resources/.

[4] Ibid.

[5] “Does school choice make school segregation better or worse?,” EdChoice, https://www.edchoice.org/school_choice_faqs/does-school-choice-make-school-segregation-better-or-worse/.

[6] “Does school choice create more tolerant, engaged citizens?,” EdChoice, https://www.edchoice.org/school_choice_faqs/does-school-choice-create-more-tolerant-engaged-citizens/.

[7] M. Danish Shakeel and Corey DeAngelis, “Can private schools improve school climate? Evidence from a nationally representative sample”, Journal of School Choice, August 8, 2018, Volume 12, 2018 – Issue 3, https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/15582159.2018.1490383?scroll=top&needAccess=true&journalCode=wjsc20.

[8] Corey DeAngelis and Angela Dills, “The Effects of School Choice on Mental Health,” SSRN, October 29, 2018, https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3272550.

[9] Shaka Mitchell, “Mason-Dixon Tennessee Statewide Poll,” American Federation of Children, February 7, 2019, https://www.federationforchildren.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/02.07MEMO-MASON-DIXON-TENNESSEE-STATEWIDE-POLL.pdf.