MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Governor Bill Lee says 42 independent schools across the state are committed to making seats available immediately for students enrolled in the state’s Education Savings Account or ESA program, and around 600 families have already started the application process.

Over half of the schools are in Shelby County.

Wednesday, Lee met with school leaders he said are interested in helping parents find the best educational fit for their children.

Gov. Lee with independent school leaders at St. Benedict at Auburndale

“We’ve only been at this a week,” said Gov. Lee. “We have about 600 applications of families that have a desire, an intent of interest, an application of interest. So, there are hundreds of families and dozens of schools, and that’s very encouraging to me.”

Last week, a Davidson County Chancellor lifted an injunction allowing the governor’s office to move forward with the pilot program.

The controversial program would allow parents in Memphis and Nashville to enroll in the ESA to allow their children to attend private schools in those counties using public funds.

The plan proposed by Gov. Bill Lee and enacted in 2019 would cost an estimated $125 million over five years and allow 5,000 students in certain low-income school districts to receive up to $7,300 to pay for approved expenses.

“We certainly hope there are no more delays. There has been a two-year delay, but it’s made its way through the court system all the way to the Tennessee Supreme Court, and they found it to be constitutional and appropriate,” Gov. Lee said. “We feel very confident it will go forward.”

Gov. Lee said right now, the focus is on getting kids enrolled and thinks they will be able to do that because of the willingness of independent schools.

Former Tennessee Rep. John DeBerry, now a senior advisor to the governor’s office, was with Governor Lee in Memphis. DeBerry said giving parents the right to choose where their children go to school is a big deal.

“Children are about 25 % of the population, but they are 100% of the future, and what we are doing in the state of Tennessee is guaranteeing not just the future of the state of Tennessee but this an issue of National Defense,” said DeBerry.

The governor said after two years of academic and social disruptions, he wants to act swiftly on behalf of the children.

Tennessee families in Shelby and Davidson counties interested in enrolling in the ESA program can click right here.