“It needs to be a good user experience for families, and it needs to be a good user experience on the back end for department staff, which is minimal,” she said. “We don’t have capacity to approve applications by Excel spreadsheet. The current capacity is designed for a well-oiled system that’s intuitive and user-friendly and that works.”

The process will not include a paper alternative, a decision for which the department has been criticized by some lawmakers and education advocates.

“If ESAs are really intended to target low-income families, it seems like it would be logical to make paper applications available,” Rep. Gloria Johnson, a Knoxville Democrat, said during a recent public hearing about proposed voucher rules.

“[Paper materials are] accessible to everyone and don’t require transportation to application stations or internet access and could simply be mailed out,” Johnson said.

But Schuyler said that concern, while understandable, is shortsighted.

“I haven’t spoken with a private school yet that has a paper application,” she said, “so even if we created a paper application, we would be creating a false sense of security because the parent would still have to navigate the school’s online application.”

The state has contracted with one other vendor, Nashville-based Circa, to develop the program’s website and to design printed and online materials to inform parents and providers about the program. That $50,000 contract, which began in September and runs through next June, includes designing resources such as handbooks, lists of frequently asked questions, application instructions, enrollment forms, and participation checklists.

The new law, championed by Gov. Bill Lee, allows the department to charge families a state administrative fee of up to 6% — and another 2% to a payment management vendor — for each education savings account. The department is considering underwriting part of ClassWallet’s 2%.

“We may end up splitting that so that the state assumes 1%, and 1% is passed on to the participating school,” she said.

If that happens, the average amount in each account would drop from $7,115 to just over $7,000 annually. “At the end of the day, we want as much money as possible to go directly to the student,” Schuyler said.

To be eligible, students must be zoned for Shelby County Schools or Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools and must be attending a Tennessee school this school year or entering kindergarten next year. The family’s household income also must not exceed double what’s needed to qualify for free lunch under federal guidelines. That’s about $65,000 annually for a family of four.

Below is a ClassWallet video about how it manages education savings accounts.