NASHVILLE — Metro Nashville Law Director Bob Cooper filed a 44-page legal complaint in Davidson County Chancery Court Thursday to fight Tennessee Republican Gov. Bill Lee’s Education Savings Account Pilot Program.
Members of the Tennessee General Assembly passed the program into law last year.
Cooper filed the complaint with the blessing of Nashville Democratic Mayor John Cooper.
Bob Cooper and John Cooper announced their plans at a Metro Nashville School Board meeting Thursday. Metro Nashville Interim Director of Schools Adrienne Battle called it “an unprecedented meeting.”
“Most of us can agree this legislation was morally flawed, but we are here to discuss how it was legally flawed and how it violates the Tennessee Constitution,” Battle said as the meeting began.
After the end of the nearly 30-minute meeting, school board members unanimously adopted a motion to formally support Bob Cooper’s complaint.
Bob Cooper filed the complaint on behalf of three plaintiffs: the Metro Government, the Metro Nashville School Board, and the Shelby County government.
“The complaint describes how this new voucher law will take hundreds of millions of dollars from Metro Nashville’s public schools and will impose burdensome, additional costs on the school system, which is already inadequately funded by the state,” Bob Cooper told school board members.
“The complaint shows in great detail how last year’s legislative process allowed legislators to protect their own counties from vouchers while imposing the program’s full burden only on Davidson County and Shelby County.”
As Bob Cooper went on to say, the complaint against school vouchers makes three claims:
• The law violates the state Constitution’s Home Rule Provision. This provision mandates that any General Assembly act that is local in form or fact and applicable to a particular county is void unless that act is approved by a two-thirds vote of the county’s legislative body or a majority of the county’s voters.
• The law violates the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clauses.
• The law violates the legislature’s constitutional mandate to maintain and support a system of free public schools.
The complaint also asks for an injunction to stop state officials from implementing the law in the upcoming school year, Bob Cooper said.
American Federation for Children (AFC) Tennessee State Director Shaka Mitchell attended Thursday’s meeting. AFC favors school choice.
“I haven’t read the full complaint yet, but, based on what we know from other states and, based on the debate that happened when this law was passed, we really think if this is the city and the school board’s best shot then this program is absolutely going to continue and grow over time,” Mitchell told The Tennessee Star.
“It’s going to be found constitutional. That has been tried and tested in over a dozen states, so we feel pretty good about it.”
Later in the day, Mitchell sent out a press release that said only one out of four public school students in Nashville can read on grade level.
“We should be giving parents every opportunity we can to ensure their children receive the education they deserve. The rate is even lower for students of color or those with less means,” according to Mitchell’s press release.
“Our research and polling shows 70 percent of Americans support this as an option–and we should be listening to parents, not blocking their child’s access to a better future.”
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