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Poll: Tennessee residents support expanding K-12 ESA voucher program

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(The Center Square) – Tennessee residents support expanding the state’s educational savings account program to the rest of the state, according to a new wide-ranging poll from Beacon Center.

The ESA expansion support is at 69% who strongly or somewhat support the idea while 13% oppose it and 16% are not sure, according to the 1,120 people polled.

The Tennessee Legislature approved adding Hamilton County to the pilot program this spring and Gov. Bill Lee signed the bill. An earlier version passed by the House also included Knox County.

The pilot program initially included just Davidson and Shelby counties.

The 2023-24 school year will be the second for the ESA program, which was passed in 2019 and then blocked in court until the summer of 2022. The program allows for 7,500 in the second year before growing to 10,000, then 12,500 and 15,000 students in the fifth year.

The first ESAs were estimated to be worth $7,572 in the first year and then have grown to be $8,684.

Families must have an annual household income that does not exceed twice the federal income eligibility guidelines for free lunch to be eligible. They also must attend a school district with at least three schools identified as a priority school in 2015 and 2018 and must have been among the bottom 10% of schools as identified by the Department of Education in 2017.

Beacon Center’s poll showed that 75% of Republican’s support the expansion, 61% of Democrats support it and 71% of those who identify as independent support it. The poll showed 28% of Democrats exposed the expansion.

Support for expanding ESAs also went across all three of the state’s grand divisions with 67% support in East Tennessee, 70% in Middle Tennessee and 73% in West Tennessee.

Overall, only 36% of voters are satisfied with Tennessee’s K-12 public education. The poll showed that 56% are unsatisfied with the current system.

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