Student Applications

Schools must submit an online form by May 30 that contains the following information:

  1. The name and grade of all eligible student applicants accepted to the school who intend to utilize an ESA
  2. The date each eligible student was accepted or rejected by the school
  3. A list of all eligible students who were not accepted with an explanation of why the student application was denied:
    • Failure to meet the school’s admission requirements
    • Academic needs that could not be met by the school
    • Other

Academic Accountability

Participating schools are held academically accountable to the ESA account holder (i.e., parent or guardian of participating student or student who has reached the age of 18) for meeting the educational needs of the participating student. At a minimum, the participating school must annually provide the account holder a written explanation of the participating student’s progress.

Annual Testing

Participating schools must ensure that participating students in grades 3-11 are administered the TCAP tests in math and English language arts each year the student is enrolled in the ESA program.

The participating school may NOT charge account holders a fee to administer the state assessments. Any assessment fees charged by the participating school for tests other than the required state assessment must be included in the fee schedule submitted with the school’s application to participate in the ESA program and must be itemized on the receipt given to account holders. Account holders may use ESA funds to pay for authorized assessments other than the required state tests.

The participating school must provide the participating student with an assessment report, which must include, at a minimum:

  • The name of the assessment
  • The date the assessment was administered to the participating student
  • The name of the participating student (first, last, and middle initial)
  • The participating student’s score on the assessment

For instructions on how to order and administer TCAP assessments, participating schools should email TNED.Assessment@tn.gov. Instructions for how to code the TCAP answer documents and Test Administration Group (TAG) for students in the ESA program will be included in the Test Administration Manual (TAM), which is released on the department’s website annually.

Participating schools must identify on the assessment forms submitted to the Department the participating student’s state ID number (issued by the public school district in which the participating student resides). Participating students who take the TCAP assessment must take the regular TCAP assessment (not the TCAP-Alt/portfolio assessment) and will not be able to receive testing accommodations under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). However, students will receive ADA accommodations as applicable.

Special Education Services

Participation in the ESA program has the same effect as parental refusal to consent to the receipt of services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act at 20 U.S.C. §1414.  Participating schools are not obligated to provide special education services. However, participating schools must comply with all applicable ADA laws and regulations.

Non-discrimination Certification

Participating schools must certify that they will not discriminate against participating students or applicants on the basis of race, color, or national origin.

School Employees

Participating schools must administer criminal background checks for all school employees.

Participating schools must maintain documentation that any employees providing services to participating students have undergone a fingerprint-based criminal history records check conducted by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) and forwarded by the TBI to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for processing pursuant to the National Child Protection Act. All participating schools must maintain documentation that all employees working on school grounds when students are present and/or providing services to students have undergone a fingerprint-based criminal history records check conducted by the TBI and forwarded to the FBI.

Further instructions can be found here.

Additionally, participating schools must exclude from employment any person not permitted by state law to work in a nonpublic school and any person who might reasonably pose a threat to the safety of students.

Payment Management and Financial Obligations

  • Participating schools must register with the department’s payment management vendor.
  • Payments toward tuition from the ESA savings account will be paid at the beginning of each semester.
  • Participating schools must submit invoices for payment to the account holder on August 1 and upon return from winter break. ESA accounts will fund for payments toward tuition once per semester.
  • The payment management vendor may withhold a two percent processing fee from the participating school’s tuition payment to process the electronic payment.
  • The funds in an ESA may be used only for educational purposes. Participating schools must submit one invoice for tuition and detail any additional expenses outside of the participating student’s regular tuition.
  • Participating schools must provide account holders with a receipt for all qualifying expenses.
  • No additional tuition or fees must be charged to participating students that are not also charged to non-participating students.
  • Participating schools must not, in any manner, refund, rebate, or share funds from an ESA with a parent of a participating student or a participating student’s sibling(s).  
  • All contracts entered into are the responsibility of the private parties involved.

Notice of Student Withdrawal

Participating schools must notify the department of any participating student who withdraws from the school within five business days of notification of withdrawal using the online form here.

If a participating student withdraws from a participating school and transfers to another non-approved nonpublic school or returns to a public school, the participating school must refund to the department the tuition and fees on a prorated basis based on the number of days the participating student was enrolled in the participating school.

Annual Reviews

The department will conduct an annual review of each participating school for fiscal and program compliance.

Annual Graduation and Completion Rates

Participating schools must annually submit graduation and completion information of 12th grade participating students to the department using the Participating School 12th Grade Students’ Graduation & Completion Form. The department will email participating schools a copy of the form on August 1 or the next business day. The department must receive the completed form no later than the date the department notes via email. The participating school principal must complete the form.

On the form, participating schools must report all of their 12th grade students who participate in the ESA program as one of the following: “graduated,” “completed,” “withdrew from the school,” “repeating 12th grade,” or “other” with an explanation.

Participating schools will define graduation as a student who has either received a regular diploma or a special education diploma.

Participating schools will define completion as a student who has taken and passed the HiSET or the GED.

Please note: If a secondary school does not have any participating students enrolled who are in the ESA program and who are graduating/completing high school, the participating school principal must email esa.questions@tn.gov by the deadline to report to the department that the participating school does not have any participating students who are graduating/completing.

Program Renewal

Participating schools must annually reapply to the department if they intend to continue participating in the program and declare the number of seats available by grade level for students using an ESA.

Program Suspension

The department may suspend or terminate a participating school from participating in the ESA program in future years if the department determines that the participating school has failed to comply with state law, rules, or department procedures for the ESA program or for nonpublic schools, including the requirements set forth in this handbook. This includes, but is not limited to, failure of participating students to make academic progress as demonstrated by performance measures from multiple data sets including but not limited to the TCAP tests or a nationally normed assessment utilized by the school.

If the noncompliance is correctable within a reasonable amount of time and if the health, safety, or welfare of the participating students is not threatened, the department may issue a notice of noncompliance which provides the participating school a timeframe to provide evidence of compliance before the department takes action to suspend or revoke the participating school’s participation in the ESA program.

If the department issues a notice of noncompliance:

  • Participating school principals will be given a reasonable period from the date of the notice, as determined by the department, to demonstrate compliance.
  • The notice will state the reasons for the noncompliance, provide instructions on how to demonstrate compliance, and give a deadline for demonstrating compliance to the department.

If the department issues a notice of proposed action suspending or revoking a participating school’s participation, the notice will state the reaseons for the action and specify the participating school’s right to appeal.

The department may immediately suspend a participating school’s participation in the ESA program if it is determined that there is probable cause to believe that there is:

  • A threat to the safety of the students
  • Fraudulent activity on the part of the participating school

If the department suspends or terminates a participating school’s participation, the department will notify affected account holders of the decision. If a participating school is suspended or if a participating school withdraws from the ESA program, affected participating students remain eligible to participate in the ESA program.

Have further questions?

Student Applications

Schools must submit an online form by May 30 that contains the following information:

  1. The name and grade of all eligible student applicants accepted to the school who intend to utilize an ESA
  2. The date each eligible student was accepted or rejected by the school
  3. A list of all eligible students who were not accepted with an explanation of why the student application was denied:
    • Failure to meet the school’s admission requirements
    • Academic needs that could not be met by the school
    • Other

Academic Accountability

Participating schools are held academically accountable to the ESA account holder (i.e., parent or guardian of participating student or student who has reached the age of 18) for meeting the educational needs of the participating student. At a minimum, the participating school must annually provide the account holder a written explanation of the participating student’s progress.

Annual Testing

Participating schools must ensure that participating students in grades 3-11 are administered the TCAP tests in math and English language arts each year the student is enrolled in the ESA program.

The participating school may NOT charge account holders a fee to administer the state assessments. Any assessment fees charged by the participating school for tests other than the required state assessment must be included in the fee schedule submitted with the school’s application to participate in the ESA program and must be itemized on the receipt given to account holders. Account holders may use ESA funds to pay for authorized assessments other than the required state tests.

The participating school must provide the participating student with an assessment report, which must include, at a minimum:

  • The name of the assessment
  • The date the assessment was administered to the participating student
  • The name of the participating student (first, last, and middle initial)
  • The participating student’s score on the assessment

For instructions on how to order and administer TCAP assessments, participating schools should email TNED.Assessment@tn.gov. Instructions for how to code the TCAP answer documents and Test Administration Group (TAG) for students in the ESA program will be included in the Test Administration Manual (TAM), which is released on the department’s website annually.

Participating schools must identify on the assessment forms submitted to the Department the participating student’s state ID number (issued by the public school district in which the participating student resides). Participating students who take the TCAP assessment must take the regular TCAP assessment (not the TCAP-Alt/portfolio assessment) and will not be able to receive testing accommodations under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). However, students will receive ADA accommodations as applicable.

Special Education Services

Participation in the ESA program has the same effect as parental refusal to consent to the receipt of services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act at 20 U.S.C. §1414.  Participating schools are not obligated to provide special education services. However, participating schools must comply with all applicable ADA laws and regulations.

Non-discrimination Certification

Participating schools must certify that they will not discriminate against participating students or applicants on the basis of race, color, or national origin.

School Employees

Participating schools must administer criminal background checks for all school employees.

Participating schools must maintain documentation that any employees providing services to participating students have undergone a fingerprint-based criminal history records check conducted by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) and forwarded by the TBI to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for processing pursuant to the National Child Protection Act. All participating schools must maintain documentation that all employees working on school grounds when students are present and/or providing services to students have undergone a fingerprint-based criminal history records check conducted by the TBI and forwarded to the FBI.

Further instructions can be found here. 

Additionally, participating schools must exclude from employment any person not permitted by state law to work in a nonpublic school and any person who might reasonably pose a threat to the safety of students.

Payment Management and Financial Obligations

  • Participating schools must register with the department’s payment management vendor.
  • Payments toward tuition from the ESA savings account will be paid at the beginning of each semester.
  • Participating schools must submit invoices for payment to the account holder on August 1 and upon return from winter break. ESA accounts will fund for payments toward tuition once per semester.
  • The payment management vendor may withhold a two percent processing fee from the participating school’s tuition payment to process the electronic payment.
  • The funds in an ESA may be used only for educational purposes. Participating schools must submit one invoice for tuition and detail any additional expenses outside of the participating student’s regular tuition.
  • Participating schools must provide account holders with a receipt for all qualifying expenses.
  • No additional tuition or fees must be charged to participating students that are not also charged to non-participating students.
  • Participating schools must not, in any manner, refund, rebate, or share funds from an ESA with a parent of a participating student or a participating student’s sibling(s).  
  • All contracts entered into are the responsibility of the private parties involved.

Notice of Student Withdrawal

Participating schools must notify the department of any participating student who withdraws from the school within five business days of notification of withdrawal using the online form here.

If a participating student withdraws from a participating school and transfers to another non-approved nonpublic school or returns to a public school, the participating school must refund to the department the tuition and fees on a prorated basis based on the number of days the participating student was enrolled in the participating school.

Annual Reviews

The Department will conduct an annual review of each participating school for fiscal and program compliance.

Annual Graduation and Completion Rates

Participating schools must annually submit graduation and completion information of 12th grade participating students to the department using the Participating School 12th Grade Students’ Graduation & Completion Form. The department will email participating schools a copy of the form on August 1 or the next business day. The department must receive the completed form no later than the date the department notes via email. The participating school principal must complete the form.

On the form, participating schools must report all of their 12th grade students who participate in the ESA program as one of the following: “graduated,” “completed,” “withdrew from the school,” “repeating 12th grade,” or “other” with an explanation.

Participating schools will define graduation as a student who has either received a regular diploma or a special education diploma.

Participating schools will define completion as a student who has taken and passed the HiSET or the GED.

Please note: If a secondary school does not have any participating students enrolled who are in the ESA program and who are graduating/completing high school, the participating school principal must email esa.questions@tn.gov by the deadline to report to the department that the participating school does not have any participating students who are graduating/completing.

Program Renewal

Participating schools must annually reapply to the department if they intend to continue participating in the program and declare the number of seats available by grade level for students using an ESA.

Program Suspension

The department may suspend or terminate a participating school from participating in the ESA program in future years if the department determines that the participating school has failed to comply with state law, rules, or Department procedures for the ESA program or for nonpublic schools, including the requirements set forth in this handbook. This includes, but is not limited to, failure of participating students to make academic progress as demonstrated by performance measures from multiple data sets including but not limited to the TCAP tests or a nationally normed assessment utilized by the school.

If the noncompliance is correctable within a reasonable amount of time and if the health, safety, or welfare of the participating students is not threatened, the department may issue a notice of noncompliance which provides the participating school a timeframe to provide evidence of compliance before the department takes action to suspend or revoke the participating school’s participation in the ESA program.

If the department issues a notice of noncompliance:

  • Participating school principals will be given a reasonable period from the date of the notice, as determined by the department, to demonstrate compliance.
  • The notice will state the reasons for the noncompliance, provide instructions on how to demonstrate compliance, and give a deadline for demonstrating compliance to the department.

If the department issues a notice of proposed action suspending or revoking a participating school’s participation, the notice will state the reaseons for the action and specify the participating school’s right to appeal.

The department may immediately suspend a participating school’s participation in the ESA program if it is determined that there is probable cause to believe that there is:

  • A threat to the safety of the students
  • Fraudulent activity on the part of the participating school

If the department suspends or terminates a participating school’s participation, the department will notify affected account holders of the decision. If a participating school is suspended or if a participating school withdraws from the ESA program, affected participating students remain eligible to participate in the ESA program.

Have further questions?