Investigation Of Tennessee’s Management Of School-choice Program For Disabled Students

Photo Credit: Erik Schelzig / AP

The Center Square [By Vivian Jones]- 

Questions and complaints have arisen about the Tennessee Department of Education’s management of a school-choice program for disabled students and its allocation of federal coronavirus relief funding, prompting two state legislators to ask the state comptroller to investigate.

Senate Education Committee Chairperson Dolores Gresham, R-Sommerville, and House Education Committee Chairperson Mark White, R-Memphis, have sent a letter to State Comptroller Justin Wilson, asking for an investigation into the Department of Education’s management of the Individualized Education Account program and Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds allocated to education.

“Over the course of the year questions and concerns have been raised regarding the management of the Individualized Education Account (IEA) program and allocation of CARES Act funding by the Department of Education,” the letter reads. “These concerns have not been localized, but instead come from every level of education across the state.”

The comptroller’s office is in the process of reviewing the request and determining next steps, said a spokesperson.

“The department intends to fully participate in any investigation from the comptroller’s office, as we always have,” Department of Education spokesperson Victoria Robinson said. “We are confident in the allocation of CARES funding to school districts and the administration of the state set-aside, all of which has been presented to various levels of legislative leadership. While the IEA Program has had a history of challenges, an internal review by the department earlier this year has created process and codification improvements and we have seen a greater uptick in participation in the program.”

Through the IEA program, students with certain disabilities can receive funding, up to the amount state and local governments would have spent had they attended a public school, to help cover educational expenses needed to meet the students’ unique learning needs.

Legislation establishing IEAs was passed in 2015, and the first IEA funds were awarded to students in January 2017.

“The IEA program is critical for some families who have children with special needs,” Gresham told The Center Square in a statement. “We will do everything we can to ensure that the program is implemented with fidelity and integrity for the benefit of these students.”

The Department of Education received a total of 392 preliminary applications from families interested in applying for IEAs this year, Robinson said.

“We just want this program to work the way it is supposed to work,” Gresham said.

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