Parents interested in using the state’s new Education Savings Accounts program to send their children to Catholic schools are invited to two upcoming information sessions.
The first session will be held after all the Masses on Sunday, Jan. 12 at Sagrado Corazon Church, located at the Catholic Pastoral Center on McGavock Pike in Nashville. The sessions will be led by Sister Mary Johanna Mellody, O.P., who works in Hispanic ministry for the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia Congregation and is fluent in Spanish. Diocesan Schools Superintendent Rebecca Hammel will also be on hand for the sessions.
The Sunday Masses at Sagrado Corazon are at 7 a.m., 10 a.m., 1 p.m. and 6 p.m.
The second session will be at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 13, at St. Joseph School in Madison. Representatives from the American Federation for Children-Tennessee and the Tennessee Department of Education will be on hand to explain the program and answer questions.
“The goal is to inform families of school-aged children about the Education Savings Account and to teach them how to apply to the Department of Education when the application portal opens, which we anticipate to be in early February,” Hammel said.
During the last legislative session, the Tennessee General Assembly passed a law establishing the Education Savings Account, which allows students in kindergarten through 12th grade who are zoned to attend Metro Nashville or Shelby County schools to use state funds to attend participating private schools.
Although the families must live in Davidson County, they can use the funds in their Education Savings Account at schools in other counties, Hammel said. All the diocesan schools in Davidson, Sumner, Rutherford and Williamson counties are expected to participate in the program, Hammel said.
Each Education Savings Account will have about $7,100 in state funds, which can be used at vendors pre-approved by the state Department of Education for: tuition and fees at a participating K-12 school; fees for transportation to and from school; required textbooks; computers or devices used for educational needs; school uniforms; tutoring services; summer or after school educational programs; educational therapy services; fees for high school dual enrollment courses at colleges and universities; and fees for college admission exams.
Families must fall below certain income levels to be eligible to receive an Education Savings Account: $43,966 for a two-person household; $55,458 for a three-person household; $66,950 for a four-person household; $78,442 for a five-person household.
All the guidelines for participating in the program still must be finalized by the state, but the guidelines as proposed can be viewed on the Education Department’s website. Visit tn.gov/education and search for “Education Savings Accounts.”
Families will have to apply to the state to receive an Education Savings Account and they also will have to meet all the admission requirements for the Catholic school their student will be attending, Hammel said.
Sister Mary Johanna has already held information sessions at St. Ann Church, St. Ignatius of Antioch Church and with the Coptic Catholic community, and will be holding more, Hammel said. Marsha Wharton, principal of St. Edward School, also has led an information session for families in the Burmese Catholic community, Hammel added.
Diocesan officials hope to speak to families in several other ethnic Catholic communities, Hammel said. “We’re hoping to reach out to Sudanese families and the Vietnamese and Korean groups,” she said.
Families can also contact individual schools to get information about the Education Savings Accounts, Hammel said.
“We are encouraging families who are interested in the Education Savings Account program to start touring our schools to see if they are a good fit for their family, so when this becomes activated, they can act on it immediately,” Hammel said.
Some schools have already started the application process for families interested in using an Education Savings Account, Hammel said.
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