Your ZIP code should not determine your future.
But for far too many students in our state, that is exactly the case.
Here in Tennessee, our leaders have made a number of bold, innovative reforms in recent years that are improving education outcomes across the state. But not all of our students are benefiting. At New Hope Academy – a Christ-centered, community school with a diverse student body in Franklin – we believe that every child deserves a chance at an excellent education, no matter your racial or economic background. We also believe that parents are the primary educators of their children. Many parents in Middle Tennessee have a variety of educational options for their children. But we believe that every parent should have options from which to choose the best educational environment for their child and the school that best matches their family’s values.
At New Hope Academy, over 40% of our student body attends on close to a full scholarship, and 61% receive some sort of financial aid. It is part of our mission to seek out families from economically-disadvantaged communities who are looking for better options for their students. In fact, we prefer not to call ourselves a “private” school. We’re independent, and we have limited enrollment because of small class sizes, but we’re open to anyone who wants an excellent education aimed at cultivating faith, wisdom and virtue in a diverse setting.
Through our committed network of 1,000 donors, we are able to offer scholarships and financial aid to help economically-disadvantaged families attend New Hope. And while we are proud of the work we’ve done to make New Hope available to everyone, we are always looking for new ways to reach more and more families who are searching for a better choice for their children.
That’s why I have been closely following the educational savings account legislation introduced by Gov. Bill Lee’s administration that is making its way through the state legislature.
ESAs are funds — reported at $7,300 per student — provided by the state directly to eligible families that they can in turn spend on a number of educational expenses, including independent school tuition.
We’ve been learning about this proposal from groups like TennesseeCAN, and the more I study this potential ESA program, the more excited I get about what it could mean for our school specifically as well as for families across our community and state.
We already make it a point to keep our tuition as low as possible and offer generous financial aid to make it accessible for students from low-income families to attend our school. Indeed, we believe that an excellent education must be a diverse education. We know that other schools in our area would like to offer more financial aid but don’t believe it is viable. ESAs will make attending independent schools like ours even more of a reality for the families that would like to attend them. That means more students will receive the type of quality education they deserve — an education many around the state have been denied simply due to a ZIP code that zones them to a low-performing school.
Whether you look at independent schools or public schools, any teacher or school leader will tell you that education is not one size fits all. At New Hope Academy we put that belief into practice by focusing on each individual student and tailoring our instruction to their specific strengths and weaknesses.
I want every student to have that opportunity.
If Lee’s ESA plan were to become law, more students than ever before could seek out the right school that offers the education that’s right for them.
That might mean New Hope Academy, or it might not. There are a number of independent schools across the state that are designed to meet a variety of specific educational needs.
But all of Tennessee’s students and families deserve that choice.
Parker Page is advancement director for New Hope Academy in Franklin, Tennessee.