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School choice in Tennessee

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See also

School choice refers to the educational alternatives available to parents who do not wish to send their children to the local district public schools to which they are assigned. Public school choice options include open enrollment policies, magnet schools and charter schools. Other options include traditional school vouchers, scholarship tax credits, personal tax credits and deductions and Education Savings Accounts (ESAs), which allow parents to receive public funds directly for educational expenses.[1][2]

School choice options in Tennessee include: charter schools, intra-district and inter-district open enrollment policies and online learning programs. In addition, about 7.96 percent of school age children in the state attended private schools in the 2011-12 academic year, and an estimated 2.67 percent were homeschooled in 2012-13.

Educational choice options

See also: Number of schools by school type in the U.S.

Charter schools

See also: Charter schools in Tennessee

According to the Tennessee Department of Education, charter schools are defined as follows:[3]

Charter schools are public schools operated by independent, non-profit governing bodies. In Tennessee, public charter school students are measured against the same academic standards as students in other public schools.

Local boards of education ensure that only those charter schools open and remain open that are meeting the needs of their students. Local boards do this through rigorous authorization processes, ongoing monitoring of the academic and financial performance of charter schools, and, when necessary, through the revocation or non-renewal of charters.[4]

According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, there were 47 charter schools operating in Tennessee in the 2012-13 academic year. During that time, charter schools enrolled 10,803 students.[5][6]

Charter school authorizers are, according to the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA), the organizations "designated to approve, monitor, renew, and, if necessary, close charter schools." As of June 2014, the organizations in the following table were listed by NACSA as charter school authorizers in Tennessee:[7]

Magnet schools

See also: Number of schools by school type in the U.S.

Magnet schools, sometimes called theme-based schools, are public schools of choice that use a specialized subject area or innovative learning approach to attract students from more diverse backgrounds. In fact, magnet schools began as a way to desegregate public schools through choice rather than force. Magnet schools can reach beyond the barriers of school districts, but they are still managed and funded publicly by local districts, even though they are centered around specialized themes and subjects.[8][9]

In the 2011-2012 school year, there were 2,949 magnet schools in the United States. In that year, Tennessee had 132 magnet schools that served 95,317 students. Approximately 69 percent of students enrolled in Tennessee magnet schools were classified as a minority. That percentage of students was predominately black. This was higher than Tennessee's average of 34 percent minority enrollment. The state also reported an average student:teacher ratio of 16:1 in magnet schools, which is higher than the state average of 15:1 in traditional public schools. The table below lists this information again and compares it to Tennessee's neighboring states.[10][11]

Magnet school participation, 2011-2012
State Magnet schools in the state Students in magnet schools Minority enrollment percentage Student:teacher ratio
Tennessee 132 95,317 69% 16:1
Alabama 32 15,555 64% 15:1
Kentucky 42 38,482 47% 16:1
Mississippi 19 4,234 90% 12:1
Source: Public School Review, "Public School Review state magnet school pages," accessed December 12, 2014

School vouchers and tax incentives

Tennessee provides neither school vouchers nor school choice tax incentives.[12]

Online learning

According to Keeping Pace with K-12 Online and Blended Learning, there is one fully virtual statewide school in Tennessee (the Tennessee Virtual Academy), which served 1,679 students in the 2012-13 academic year. There are also several district-specific online learning programs in Tennessee, including the Hamilton County Virtual School and the Memphis Virtual School. The state-led online learning program ceased operations as of 2011.[13]

Private schools

In the 2011-12 school year, 78,679 students, or 7.96 percent of school age children, were enrolled in 453 private schools. Tennessee ranks 34th highest in the nation in private school attendance.[14]

Public school open enrollment

According to the Education Commission of the States, Tennessee has two open enrollment policies:[15]

  1. Intra-district/mandatory policy, which allows "students in low-performing schools, as designated by the state, to attend a different school within their school district"
  2. Intra-district/voluntary and inter-district/voluntary policies

Intra-district policies provide for the transfer of students within a school district, while inter-district policies allow students to transfer between districts. Under mandatory open enrollment policies, school districts are required to participate. Under voluntary policies, school districts may choose whether to participate.[15]


In Tennessee in 2012-2013 an estimated 29,078 students, or 2.67 percent of the total student-aged population, were homeschooled.[16]

A summary of the state's laws relating to homeschooling can be accessed here.

School choice ballot measures

See also: School choice on the ballot and List of Tennessee ballot measures

Ballotpedia has tracked no statewide ballot measures relating to school choice in Tennessee.

Recent news

This section displays the most recent stories in a Google news search for the term "Tennessee + Education + Choice"

All stories may not be relevant to this page due to the nature of the search engine.

Tennessee School Choice News Feed

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See also


  1. National Conference of State Legislatures, "School Choice and Charters," accessed June 18, 2014
  2. Friedman Foundation for School Choice, "What is School Choice?" accessed June 18, 2014
  3. Tennessee Department of Education, "Charter Schools," accessed June 24, 2014
  4. Note: This text is quoted verbatim from the original source. Any inconsistencies are attributed to the original source.
  5. National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, "Total Number of Schools - Tennessee," accessed June 24, 2014
  6. National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, "Total Number of Students - Tennessee," accessed June 24, 2014
  7. National Association of Charter School Authorizers, "Tennessee Charter Authorizers," accessed June 18, 2014
  8. Public School Review, "What is a magnet school?" accessed December 9, 2014
  9. Magnet Schools of America, "What are magnet schools?" accessed December 9, 2014
  10. National Center for Education Statistics, "Selected statistics from the common core of data: School year 2011-2012," accessed December 12, 2014
  11. Public School Review, "Tennessee magnet schools," accessed December 12, 2014
  12. The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, "School Choice in Tennessee," accessed June 24, 2014
  13. Keeping Pace with K-12 Online and Blended Learning, "Tennessee," accessed June 24, 2014
  14. U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data (CCD), "Private School Universe Survey (PSS)", 2011-12 ; "Public Elementary/Secondary School Universe Survey, v.1a.," accessed May 12, 2014
  15. 15.0 15.1 Education Commission of the States, "Open Enrollment: 50-State Report," accessed June 23, 2014
  16. A2Z Home's Cool, "Number of Homeschoolers in the USA," updated February 2, 2014