2015 School Choice Series: East South Central

Whether you’re an advocate or a critic of school choice, it only directly affects you if it’s an option where you live.

Noodle has put together a state-by-state overview of school choice options in 2015. You can find descriptions of the available options — such as charter schools and voucher programs — relevant state and regional news items and debates, and resources for further research. This article focuses on the East South Central states: Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Tennessee. You can also follow this link to learn more about what school choice is.

School Choice in Alabama

While there a just a few options, school choice in Alabama is a hot-button issue. Alabama currently offers tax credit programs through the Alabama Accountability Act, through which parents receive funds if they transfer their child out of a failing school and into an eligible private school or non-failing public school. The act also provides tax credits for those who donate to Scholarship Granting Organizations (SGOs) that serve income-eligible students who transfer out of failing schools.

The act is highly controversial and is currently awaiting review by the state’s Supreme Court. It has spurred debate for multiple reasons, including that it may not provide access or choice to all children, and that it may divert resources away from schools that need them most.

Alabama has yet to pass a law allowing charter schools. The state also does not allow open enrollments, aside from those offered through the Accountability Act. Alabama does, however, employ online classes through ACCESS Distance Education.

Resources for Further Research

School Choice in Kentucky

At present, Kentucky does not have school choice programs for private schools or charter schools, although advocacy groups would like for these policies to change in the near future. Proposed legislation, if passed, could allow charters in the state. Kentucky is one of only a few states in which a charter school system is not permitted.

Kentucky students do have limited access to online education . The state also allows 0pen enrollment — that is, transfers between and beyond school districts — if a child's home district is deemed to be failing. The process for transferring varies by district. Often, it can be challenging for students to gain acceptance to the schools of their choice, as each district has a different policy for allowing transfer students.

Resources for Further Research

School Choice in Mississippi

Public school education in Mississippi has long been a debated issue. The state recently enacted its first charter school law, and the first charter school is scheduled to open in the Jacksonville district in 2016.

The state also has two voucher programs for children with special needs: the Nate Rogers Scholarship for Students with Disabilities Program and the Mississippi Dyslexia Therapy Scholarship for Students with Dyslexia Program. Both programs offer vouchers for students to attend private schools if those schools are equipped to offer beneficial services.

Online education is available through the Mississippi Virtual Public School, which is a supplemental program serving high school students.

Mississippi allows only for interdistrict public school choice. Under this system, students — especially those in low-performing schools — may transfer to another school within the same district if both schools consent. Such transfers are not guaranteed, however.

Resources for Further Research

School Choice in Tennessee

Tennessee currently has 47 charter schools that serve more than 10,000 students. There is also one statewide online school, Tennessee Virtual Academy, in addition to district-specific online schools.

The state has an open enrollment policy for both interdistrict and intradistrict transfers. Both policies are voluntary, so school districts are not required to participate and may decide to do so at their own discretion.

The state does not have a private school choice program. Proposed legislation could, however, bring one to the state. As in many states, there is much debate around private school vouchers in Tennessee. Some parents and public school advocates worry that the available information is skewed to push students toward private and charter schools.

Some 83,000 students in Tennessee attend public schools deemed to be failing. The proposed voucher program, if enacted into law, would enable students to transfer out of low-performing schools.

Resources for Further Research