The Tennessee Court of Appeals ruled Governor Bill Lee’s educational savings account (ESA) program “unconstitutional” on Tuesday. The court’s decision upheld a lower court’s ruling on the school voucher program.
The court of appeals ruled that the unconstitutionality of the ESA program is because it “is local in effect, and applicable to Davidson and Shelby counties in their governmental capacity.” This decision references article XI, section 9, paragraph 2 of the Tennessee Constitution.
Both chambers of the Tennessee General Assembly adopted Lee’s ESA program last year. The program allows the state to administer public money to parents who want to move their children from low-performing public schools to private schools.
Subsequently, the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County (Metro), the Shelby County Government, and the Metropolitan Nashville Board of Public Education filed suit against the State of Tennessee this past February. They argued that the program is unconstitutional because the state can’t target specific home-rule counties through legislation.
Davidson County and Shelby County parents of public school children, as well as independent schools called the Greater Praise Christian Academy and Sensational Enlightenment Academy Independent School, joined to defend Lee’s ESA program.
Applications to the ESA program were halted with the ongoing trial. This decision left parents needing the benefits in a financial lurch.
The Beacon Center of Tennessee issued a comment in a press release on this recent ruling, expressing hope for a different ruling in higher court.
“While we respect the court’s ruling, we look forward to taking this case to the Tennessee Supreme Court. We are confident the Supreme Court will find the state’s careful attempt to throw a lifeline to parents stuck in the worst performing schools is in fact constitutional,” said Beacon President and CEO Justin Owen. “These families are hurt every day that the status quo remains in place and we hope the Supreme Court will give them the educational options they so desperately need and deserve.”
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Editors note: The original version of this story incorrectly quoted Beacon President and CEO Justin Owen. That error has been corrected to show his quote that the law is “constitutional.” The Star regrets the error in the original story, which is now corrected in the current version.
Corinne Murdock is a reporter at The Tennessee Star and the Star News Network. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to [email protected].
Background Photo “Classroom” by Allison Meier. CC BY-SA 2.0.