House advances school choice, bolsters public education

Published 1:16 pm Tuesday, March 5, 2024

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House Republicans have unveiled a sweeping proposal to improve education in Tennessee by expanding school choice opportunities for families and strengthening existing public schools statewide.

House Bill 1183, as amended, represents the culmination of months of diligent work by the chairs of the House education committees to ensure the needs of every student are met. The legislation advanced out of the K-12 Subcommittee last Tuesday after more than two hours of discussion.

“We have been listening to our teachers, our superintendents and our students all across the state,” said State Rep. Mark White, R-Memphis, who is guiding passage of the bill. “This legislation before us is an opportunity to rethink education in our state.”

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The proposal would establish the Education Freedom Scholarships Act (EFSA), giving parents the power to use their tax dollars to choose the best school that meets the needs of their child.

A total of 20,000 scholarships would be available to families for the 2024-25 school year. Priority would be given to students who are currently eligible for an Education Savings Account followed by those from households at or below 400 percent and 500 percent of the federal poverty level respectively. Recipients must be U.S. citizens and not enrolled in a homeschool program.

Growth of the EFSA program would be limited to 20 percent of the number of scholarships awarded during the previous year. The Department of Education would also be required to submit an annual report on the utilization of the scholarships.

“We’ve put caps on the growth of this to make sure that if it grows, it grows sensibly (and) it grows in a way that the General Assembly can afford as it moves forward,” said State Rep. Scott Cepicky, R-Culleoka. “It is driven by usage.”

Tennessee public schools will also benefit from House Bill 1183 through additional funding, reductions in testing and evaluations along with increased flexibility in various other areas.

“The bulk of this bill is what we’re trying to do for our public schools, because 90 percent of our children go to public schools,” White said. “We are trying to build up what our public schools are doing.”

The General Assembly in 2022 approved the Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement (TISA) Act, which overhauled the way the state funds education to prioritize the individual needs of students. The proposed base funding for each public school student in Tennessee for the 2024-25 school year is $7,075.

With House Bill 1183, the weighted allocation per student in small districts would increase by 3 percent while the amount for each student in sparse districts would increase by 1 percent. There would also be $75 in additional funding per student to address local school infrastructure needs.

Additionally, the state would increase its health care plan contribution for districts from 45 percent to 60 percent. This would amount to an estimated $160 million in additional funding during the first year for districts to use at their discretion. The legislation would also reduce the number of K-12 standardized tests annually and align them more to federal requirements, adding approximately 300 hours of instructional time back into the classroom.

“Time is the most valuable asset for our teachers,” Cepicky said. “If we can put more time into the classroom and still be able to gather the data we need to make sure our students are progressing, we all win.”

Higher-performing teachers would be evaluated less frequently and license recertifications would occur every eight years instead of every five years under the proposal. Districts would also have increased flexibility regarding promoting students in grades 4 through 8.


Legislation that would help combat hunger at universities and community colleges across the state is moving through the House this week.

House Bill 1914, introduced by State Rep. Michael Hale, R-Smithville, would create a hunger-free campus grant program to help higher education institutions provide food to their students.

Eligible schools must have an established food pantry for students or partner with a community food pantry that is accessible to students. They must also form a “Hunger Task Force” that includes at least two students who will examine the need and best practices for food insecurity on campus.

A report by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission showed that campus administrators estimate 30 percent of students experience food insecurity.

“Our goal is to make food insecurity a thing of the past. While this is not the end-all solution, it is a step in the right direction,” Hale said.

When a campus is awarded grant funds, they must develop a student meal credit donation program, allocate funding for a meal voucher program or provide financial assistance to its food pantry or partner pantry. They must also raise awareness of community and campus resources for students facing food insecurity.

Schools will have to submit an annual report to the Education Administration Committee outlining its efforts to address food insecurity, demographics and best practices implemented.

House Bill 1914 advanced out of the Higher Education Subcommittee this week and is scheduled to be heard in the Education Administration Committee on March 6.


A bill to make voting more accessible for visually impaired Tennesseans has advanced out of the Elections and Campaign Finance Subcommittee. 

House Bill 2293, also known as the Print Disability Absentee Voting Act, creates a process for an accessible electronically-delivered ballot to be delivered to Tennesseans with a print disability that impairs their ability to read, write and use printed materials.

“Voting shouldn’t be a burden on any citizen with a disability,” said bill sponsor State Rep. Elaine Davis, R-Knoxville. “This legislation preserves election integrity while providing an accessible ballot for blind Tennesseans to securely and privately cast their ballots.”

The legislation would allow residents who are visually impaired to request an electronically-delivered ballot online through the Tennessee Secretary of State’s website. The use of electronic or digital signatures would not be permitted.

 If approved, the new law would take effect Aug. 2.


The Tennessee House of Representatives last week passed legislation to make hospital records more accessible to a patient’s immediate family members in certain circumstances.

House Bill 1639, filed by State Rep. Jerome Moon, R-Maryville, ensures that if a patient dies without an authorized representative, their surviving spouse, child or parent can obtain their medical records from a hospital or other licensed health care facility in the state without the need for legal intervention.

“Medical emergencies often occur unexpectedly, leaving patients with little or no time to prepare,” Moon said. “Grieving families should not have to worry about dealing with additional government bureaucracy in order to obtain the medical records of their loved one. This legislation ensures these documents can be provided in certain cases without the need for potentially costly legal proceedings. I appreciate my colleagues in the House for their support of this bill.”

A deceased patient’s hospital records currently by law can only be provided to their authorized representative who has been named by a court. The companion version of House Bill 1639 is still advancing through the Senate. If approved, the new law would take effect July 1.

(Rep. John Holsclaw represents Carter County in the Tennessee House of Representatives)