New Bill Would Give Dyslexic Kids Private School Vouchers

A new bill looks to bolster school choice in one state allowing students with dyslexia eligibility for school vouchers.

By Erika Hanson | Published

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students with dyslexia

School choice is gaining momentum in droves of parents across the nation. In essence, the idea behind school choice is that education funds should follow each student individually regardless of whether they attend a public, charter, or private school. Tennessee has served as a battleground state in the fight for more school choice, and now a new bill could be a big win for parents seeking more options, especially those for students with dyslexia. 

According to a new report from Chalkbeat, a newly proposed bill, which lawmakers progressed through two finance committees on April 6th, looks to double the number of students in Tennessee that would be eligible to receive state money to pay for private education services. Two state Republicans, Rep. Debra Moody and Sen. Ferrell Haile are co-sponsoring the bill. It would give nearly 35,000 students with learning disabilities, including students with dyslexia, new eligibility to participate in Tennesse’s existing school voucher program.

The school voucher program, known as the Education Account program, was first launched six years ago. Currently, the program serves 284 students with disabilities including autism, hearing and vision impairments, and traumatic brain injury. Serving less than 1% of the state’s disabled students, it was clear that adding in broader eligibility, such as students with dyslexia, could benefit more Tennesee families. Fewer families have enrolled than was initially expected when the program rolled out. In 2019, some parents even complained about the initiative, saying they got their reimbursements late and were unable to reach program administrators for help. The new bill looks to change this all and bolster school choice in The Volunteer State.

students with dyslexia

The bill co-authors are both big proponents of school choice. Furthermore, they believe it is a great opportunity for students with dyslexia whose parents may not be happy with the quality of education they are currently receiving in public schools. “This is intended for those certain circumstances for a parent to step in and say this is not working, my school is not able to provide me with what I think would help my child,” Moody said.

But even though plenty view the proposed bill as a positive effort of inclusivity, some feel otherwise. Two members of the House finance subcommittee were opposed to the legislation giving access to school voices for students with dyslexia. Republican Chairman Gary Hicks and Democratic Rep. Bob Freeman voiced concerns. They appear to be apprehensive about the money flow and transparency. “I have asked multiple different people to understand where this money is being spent today,” said Freeman during Wednesday’s subcommittee meeting. Administrators of the program did regularly publish reports in regards to enrollment numbers and expenditures up to 2019 but have failed to in the three years following. Ultimately though, they are not required to report it.

students with dyslexia

Raumesh Akbari, a Democratic Senator from Memphis also opposes the bill including students with dyslexia into school vouchers. Overall, she opposes school choice in general. Like other opposers, Akbari doesn’t agree with school choice due to the fact that private schools are not required under law to disclose where funding goes. Similarly, other schools do not have to follow the same mandates and regulations that public schools do. 

The main takeaway from this bill is that regardless of how lawmakers feel about school choice, it is already lawfully promoted within Tennessee. The new bill does nothing to create school vouchers, it simply seeks to give more children, like students with dyslexia, the opportunity to qualify. While the piece of legislation has been approved by subcommittees, it still has a long process ahead before it has the chance to be signed into law.