State: Tennessee

Tennessee State Guide

Choosing a school? You’ve got options.

Each spring, parents face one of the biggest decisions they can make for their child’s future: What school environment will their child spend about 1,000 hours in next year? 

Making that decision with confidence starts with knowing what options you have; you may have more school choices in Tennessee than you realize! Understanding these options can help you find a school where your child grows and learns to the best of their ability. Tennessee families can choose from traditional public schools, public charter schools, public magnet schools, private schools, online learning, homeschooling, and microschooling and mix-and-match learning.

Interested in learning more about Tennessee’s Education Savings Account (ESA) program? Check out our deep dive blog to guide you through it!

Tennessee Traditional Public Schools

Most Tennessee families choose traditional public schools, which are operated by school districts, free to attend, open to all students, and funded by taxpayers. Did you know that, on average, Tennessee spends $10,507 per public school student each year? 

Tennessee has more than 1,700 public schools. Currently, 78% of all K-12 students attend a traditional public school in Tennessee. Since fall 2022, all school districts in Tennessee have offered an open enrollment period. Open enrollment refers to whether parents can send their children to any public school, regardless of where it is located. Tennessee’s expanding open enrollment options mean that parents may be able to transfer their child to any public school, regardless of where they live. However, note that in some cases, receiving districts in Tennessee charge fees for out-of-district students. 

Open enrollment is an important way that parents have access to a broader variety of public schools. Find out more about public schools in your state at the Tennessee Department of Education or the online dashboard of the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office. You can also learn more about open enrollment at “Public Schools without Boundaries: A 50-State Ranking.”

Tennessee Charter Schools

Tennessee has more than 110 public charter schools, many of them in Memphis and Nashville. In Tennessee, 4% of all K-12 students attend a public charter school. Like traditional public schools, charter schools are public, free, and typically have no requirements for entry. What distinguishes charter schools is that they have extra freedom to innovate with learning methods and are accountable to authorizing entities for student results. 

Each school has a charter which explains the school’s purpose and what specific community need it serves, whether that be providing a language immersion program or offering a rigorous, literacy-based curriculum. If there are more families seeking admittance to a charter school than there are seats, a lottery system (like drawing random names out of a hat!) is usually used to determine admittance. 

Tennessee’s first charter school, Memphis Academy of Science and Engineering, was founded in 2003. Today, Tennessee’s charter schools serve more than 38,000 children. You can learn more about your state’s charter options at the TN Charter School Center.

Tennessee Magnet Schools

You can also choose magnet schools! In Tennessee, 7.2% of all K-12 students attend a public magnet school. Magnet schools are free public schools that allow kids to narrow in on a specific learning track, such as an International Baccalaureate program or the performing arts. A magnet school teaches all subjects through the lenses of that specific track. Tennessee has several magnet schools. For example, the Hamilton County School District, Knox County School District, Metropolitan Nashville Public School District, Rutherford County School District, and Shelby County School District all offer magnet choices, among others. If your child learns well through diving deeply into a particular subject, a magnet school could be a good fit. 

Tennessee Private Schools

Tennessee families can also choose private schools. These nonpublic schools charge tuition and offer a unique learning environment that may be smaller in size, pass on a specific religious tradition, or provide a different curriculum than is available in your district school. 

There are more than 550 private schools across the state of Tennessee. The average tuition for private schools in the state is $10,444 for elementary schools and $11,086 for high schools.

Some tuition assistance is available. In Tennessee, students with special needs may be eligible for a publicly funded Individualized Education Account. In 2022, this program was expanded to include students with dyslexia. Also, low-income and middle-income students zoned to attend a Shelby County District school, Hamilton County or Metro Nashville Public School may qualify for a state-funded education savings account to attend a private school of their choice. Families can find an enrollment form and more details at the Tennessee Department of Education. Additional funding may be available from other sources. Currently, 0.2% of all K-12 students in Tennessee participate in a private school choice program.

Learn more at Private School Review: Tennessee. You can also find information about private schools at the online dashboard of the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office.

Tennessee Online Learning

Don’t overlook virtual learning, which offers a uniquely flexible learning environment that meets a variety of family needs. Whether your child wants to accelerate learning or needs a quieter, stress-free environment in which to focus, you may be interested in trying online school.

Virtual schools in Tennessee are overseen by school districts. While some virtual schools may be open only to in-district students, others (like Tennessee Virtual Academy and Tennessee Connections Academy) serve students statewide.

As of 2024, Tennessee has more than 50 virtual schools! Schools that are approved to serve all grades K-12 statewide include Bradley County Virtual School (currently serving grades 3-12), Greene Online Academy of Learning (currently serving grades 6-12), Maryville Virtual School (currently serving grades 2-12), Memphis Virtual School (currently serving grades 4-12), Putnam County VITAL (currently serving grades 3-12), the iLearn Institute at Lenoir City, Tennessee Online Public SchoolHawkins County Virtual AcademyPioneer Virtual Academy, and Roane County Virtual Academy.

You can find a complete list of Tennessee’s virtual schools, both those that enroll statewide and those designed for local students, at the Tennessee Department of Education. More than 10,000 students in Tennessee used a fully online schooling option in 2020-2021!

To read more about online learning in Tennessee, check out the Digital Learning Collaborative’s state profile.

Tennessee Homeschooling

Families can also choose to homeschool. This option allows for high levels of customized learning and flexibility. All 50 states allow homeschooling, the process of parents educating students at home.

In Tennessee, 1.5% of all K-12 students are homeschooled. If you are an independent homeschool, it is required that you provide notice of intent to homeschool before the school year or upon choosing to homeschool and annually thereafter. Formally withdrawing from public school is required in some districts and recommended for all districts. If you decide to return to public school, your school will assess to determine grade level placement.

While the state doesn’t lay out specific subjects that homeschooling families must teach, it does require that homeschooling students take standardized tests in some grades. Note that homeschooled students in Tennessee may still be eligible to participate in sports or activities at local public schools.

Tennessee offers funding assistance for students with special needs through the Special Needs Individualized Education Account Program.

You can learn more at the Tennessee Department of Education’s Homeschooling page, Home School Legal Defense Association – Tennessee, and the Tennessee Home Education Association.

Tennessee Microschools and Mix-and-Match Learning

K-12 education is changing rapidly. Today, many Tennessee families are mixing and matching school options to come up with new ways to personalize education. Microschools are one of these ways. A microschool refers to students gathering together in a small group – with adult supervision – to learn, explore, and socialize. Microschools can take a variety of shapes and legal forms, from homeschoolers coming together at an enrichment center to a private school committed to small classrooms. What microschools share in common is a distinct commitment to small-group learning, close-knit relationships, and an emphasis on children as individual learners.

Here are just a few real examples of microschools in Tennessee: 

  • The Lab School is an innovative microschool located in the heart of Memphis that serves children ages 5-11.


  • Discovery Learners’ Academy is a nontraditional microschool in Chattanooga offering personalized academics, social emotional coaching, and discovery-based science and social studies.


  • Imani Montessori is a microschool and homeschool umbrella in East Nashville that seeks to cultivate free thinkers, creative, compassionate, and committed global citizens in service to humanity.


Remember, microschooling is more a mentality than a specific legal distinction in most cases. Often, a family participates in a microschool while legally homeschooling, or being enrolled in a private or online school. 

Download the School Choice Snapshot for Tennessee

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What is School Choice

How can it empower parents and help kids achieve their dreams?

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Choosing the Right School

Tips to help you find a school where your daughter or son will learn, succeed, and be happy.

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Search for Schools Near Me

School Type
Traditional public schools do not charge tuition. They are managed by school districts and do not require students to pass tests to enroll.
Public charter schools do not charge tuition. They are usually managed by nonprofit organizations and do not require students to pass tests to enroll.
Public magnet schools do not charge tuition. They are managed by school districts and focus on themes, such as math, science, technology, and the arts.
Private schools charge tuition, but scholarships are often available via state programs or by individual schools. Private schools are privately managed and can be faith-based or secular.
Grade Levels

Microschooling and Mix-and-Match Learning

How can it empower parents and help kids achieve their dreams?

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7 Step Guide

Tips to help you find a school where your daughter or son will learn, succeed, and be happy.

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Education Resources for
Tennessee Parents

For additional information about school choice in
Tennessee, visit these resources:

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Tennessee proclamation 2023


There are a variety of school choice options available for many of the 1.5 million children living in Tennessee. Families in Tennessee can choose from traditional public schools, public charter schools, public magnet schools, private schools, online academies, and homeschooling.

You can discover more information about the school choice options available for your family by reading our Tennessee School Choice Roadmap and by visiting the Tennessee state page.

 National School Choice Week (NSCW) informs, inspires, and empowers parents to discover the K-12 education options available for their children, including traditional public, charter, magnet, online, private, and homeschooling.

Every January, tens of thousands of schools, organizations, and individuals plan unique events and activities to shine a positive spotlight on effective education options in their communities.  The Week is a project of the nonpartisan, nonpolitical National School Choice Awareness Foundation.

A Parent’s Guide to Navigating Tennessee’s Education Savings Account (ESA) Program

In Short:

Scholarships are now available for some Tennessee students who switch from public schooling to private schools. The flexible new Tennessee Education Savings Account (ESA) program provides approximately $7,000 per year in private school tuition assistance, and assistance for other education expenses, for eligible students who have been accepted into the program. The program is limited to 5,000 students from lower-income families who are zoned to attend schools in Memphis and Nashville. Learn more on the state’s website at:


Program eligibility is limited to:

  • Students who are entering Kindergarten or will be in 1st through 12th grade and are zoned to attend public schools in Memphis (Shelby County) and Nashville;
  • Students who are enrolling in Tennessee schools for the first time, or who attended Tennessee public school for a full school year last year; and
  • Students who live in a household that receives Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), or are homeless or who live in a household with an income that does not exceed twice the federal income eligibility guidelines for free lunch. (For example, a student in a family of four with an income of $36,075 qualifies for free lunch; a student in a family of four with an income double that amount, $72,150, qualifies for the ESA).

The total number of scholarships that will be awarded is capped at 5,000. Parents can only receive funding through the ESA program if, after applying in and being accepted to the program, they then demonstrate that their child has actually enrolled in a private school.


The Tennessee Education Savings Account program is now accepting applications for the 2024-2025 school year! The application process started on February 1, 2024, and families can apply until August 1, 2024, for the upcoming school year. The priority deadline for applications is May 1, 2024, after which families can still submit applications for the Winter 2025 enrollment. Interested families can visit the Tennessee Department of Education to apply! The application requires parents to provide:

  1. Proof of income eligibility by demonstrating that the family receives TANF, or by providing a photocopy of the parent’s federal income tax return;
  2. Proof of address, including photocopies of two the following documents: a valid and unexpired driver’s license or state identification card, a property tax receipt from last year, a signed current lease agreement, a utility bill that isn’t more than three months old, a voter registration card, or a notarized affidavit from a landlord that was signed within the past 30 days;
  3. The student’s name, date of birth, and grade;
  4. The name, phone number, date of birth, and social security number of the parent; and
  5. Information regarding where the student attended school during the previous school years;

Tennessee’s ESA Program Terms and Conditions:

As part of the application, parents must agree to the terms and conditions of the ESA program. For example, parents must agree to have their incomes and addresses verified and agree to use the ESA funds for state-approved purposes, as described below. In addition, parents must agree to terminate any Individualized Education Program (IEP) their child may have and waive their rights to special education and related services.

Use of Funds:

The Tennessee Education Savings Account program will cover up to approximately $7,000 in tuition and expenses per year. For the first year of the program, most of the paperwork regarding the ESA program will be handled by private schools enrolling ESA program participants, and by the Tennessee Department of Education (the Department). Specifically: once a student is accepted into the ESA program by the Department and enrolls at a qualifying private school, the participating private school will invoice the Department for the student’s tuition and education expenses.

ESA funds can be used for tuition and fees, school uniforms, textbooks, summer education programs, specialized after school education programs, tutoring services, transportation, education therapies, and computers and technology.

In the future, the Department plans to administer the program using an online ESA management portal.  

Other Participation Steps:

If more than 5,000 students apply for scholarships, students will be selected for the program through a process called an “enrollment lottery.” This process will prioritize, in this order: students who have siblings in the program; students who are zoned to attend a school that is in the lowest 5 percent of schools in Tennessee, in terms of student academic achievement; and students who are eligible for “direct certification status,” which means they are eligible for the free lunch program. If scholarships are remaining after students in these priority categories are served, remaining scholarships will be awarded at random.  

Considerations for Parents:

We offer the following recommendations for families interested in pursuing the program:

  • Tennessee’s ESA program is like a private school voucher or scholarship program, except that it covers more than just tuition. Like a voucher program, parents need to complete pre-enrollment paperwork to enroll their children. Some of this paperwork may initially appear complicated, but the state’s website provides helpful information and a parent-focused webinar. Once students are enrolled in the ESA program, the student’s new school will then handle most of the post-enrollment paperwork, such as invoicing and billing the Department for expenses, thus reducing the paperwork burden on parents. Parents should, however, keep and maintain copies of this paperwork to ensure that their child’s ESA account is being billed correctly.
  • Before starting any application or gathering the required paperwork, parents should check out the list of participating private schools, evaluate whether they would meet their children’s needs, and inquire whether these schools have seats available. Parents should note that at the time this guide was written, all but one or two of the schools that have applied and been accepted to participate in the program are faith-based schools.
  • The program provides for significant flexibility for families. In addition to covering a variety of expenses, including tuition, the program also allows parents to easily transfer their children to another participating private school; to switch their children back to public schooling, if they change their minds, without paying a penalty; and to use any remaining ESA funds that have accumulated in the student’s account, once a student graduates from high school, for college expenses.
Mother smiling with her three children

Governor Bill Lee issued a proclamation recognizing January 23-29, 2022 as Tennessee School Choice Week.


 There are a variety of school choice options available for many of the 1.5 million children living in Tennessee. Families in Tennessee can choose from traditional public schools, public charter schools, public magnet schools, private schools, online academies, and homeschooling.

You can discover more information about the school choice options available for your family by reading our Tennessee School Choice Roadmap and by visiting the Tennessee state page
As a nonprofit, charitable effort, School Choice Week works throughout the year to develop and provide free, practical, and unbiased school search resources for Tennessee families.

During our annual awareness celebrations each January, schools and homeschool groups partner with community organizations to plan school fairs, parent information sessions, open houses and other awareness events to spotlight the diversity of education options available in the state. In January 2022, we will partner with 447 schools and organizations in Tennessee to raise awareness of K-12 education options.