Tennessee enacted the nation’s fourth education savings account (ESA) program in 2015. The program, which will launch in 2017, gives parents of students with special needs access to an Individualized Education Account (IEA). An IEA can be used for a variety of educational expenses, including private school tuition, private tutoring, learning therapies, and more. Learn more about this program’s funding, eligibility, and regulations in this section.
Tennessee’s Individualized Education Account (IEA) Program provides parents funds to pay for a variety of educational services for their children, including private school tuition, tutoring, online education, curriculum, therapy, post-secondary educational institutions in Tennessee, and other defined educational services.
An IEA is funded at an amount equivalent to 100 percent of the state and local funds reflected in the state funding formula that would have gone to the student had he or she attended their zoned public school plus special education funds to which the student would otherwise be entitled under the student’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP).
Students qualify if they are eligible to enroll in kindergarten through 12th grade. They must have an IEP and have been diagnosed with one of the following: autism, deaf-blindness, a hearing impairment (including deafness), an intellectually disability, an orthopedic impairment, a traumatic brain injury, or a visual impairment (including blindness). Additionally, students must either (1) have been enrolled in a Tennessee public school during the previous two semesters, (2) be attending a Tennessee public school for the first time, or (3) have received an IEA in the previous school year.
As the fourth education savings account program (ESA) in the country, Tennessee’s Individualized Education Program is another move toward more student-centered choice in education. Many states considering ESAs take an “incremental choice” route to reflect Arizona’s pioneering program. In this case, Tennessee also began the program with limited eligibility for children with specified disabilities. Although this is a good step for Tennessee students, the program has room to improve. Tennessee should continue to expand eligibility in the program to include all Tennessee students. The program administration is currently under the Department of Education, but should be shifted to a different governmental department, such as the Department of Revenue, or to a nonprofit designated to administer the funds.
No legal challenges have been filed against the program.