Court Rules Tennessee Education Savings Account Program Can Advance

by Jon Styf


A Tennessee trial court ruled Friday that Tennessee’s Education Scholarship Program can move forward.

A three-judge panel heard arguments earlier in the day from the American Civil Liberties Union and Southern Poverty Law Center. The two groups had asked the court to deliver an injunction against the pilot program.

“The Plaintiffs have failed to demonstrate that the extraordinary remedy of an injunction is warranted,” the ruling stated. “Specifically, we are unpersuaded that the harm the Plaintiffs believe to be imminent is sufficiently irreparable or certain so as to justify blocking the implementation of a duly enacted statute of this state at this stage of the litigation. Moreover, in light of the complex legal issues in this case, and the uncertain impact on the Plaintiffs, the Court cannot find, based upon this limited record, that the Plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits of their claims at this time.

“Although the Plaintiffs concerns at the rushed process, uncertain details of the ESA rollout and apparent lack of compliance with some of the ESA Act provisions are worthy of further consideration, those factors do not provide a basis for the Court to enjoin the implementation of the program.”

The program was only allowed to begin after Tennessee’s Supreme Court ruled in May that the program was constitutional and then ruled in June to deny Metro Nashville’s petition for the court to reconsider its ruling.

According to Stephanie Bergmeyer, a lawyer for the state, students who are accepted into the program in the two counties will receive $7,572 in funding next year and up to a 6% administrative fee amounting to $454 per student can be applied to that funding.

“Today’s ruling is a resounding victory for thousands of families,” said Brian Kelsey, managing attorney for the Liberty Justice Center. “After fighting for over two years to gain access to better education opportunities, Tennessee children in failing school districts will finally be able to attend the school that best fits their needs.”

The counties had argued that the budget hole created by the late implementation would cause irreparable harm for the districts that will never be fixed. School starts Monday, they argued, and operations have begun already.

“Based on those already established budgets, staffing and operational structures are already in place and ready to go for students to arrive in just a few days,” said Metro Nashville Law Associate Director Allison Bussell said. “But the TDOE plans to take millions of dollars, millions of dollars, from Shelby County and Davidson County’s LEAs (local education agencies) to fund private school tuition at $8,684 per ESA, that’s $43 million that MNPS and SCS will lose if the program has full participation.

“That’s $26 million if only 3,000 students participate.”

After the May ruling, 2,185 families and 84 independent schools filed “forms of intent” to participate in the ESA program, according to the Liberty Justice Center.

The group cited a poll from the American Federation for Children that said nationally that 72% of parents are in favor of school choice as opposed to 64% prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Jon Styf is an award-winning editor and reporter who has worked in Illinois, Texas, Wisconsin, Florida and Michigan in local newsrooms over the past 20 years, working for Shaw Media, Hearst, The Center Square and several other companies.
Photo “Student Teacher in Scholarship Program” by Metro Nashville Public Schools.


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7 Thoughts to “Court Rules Tennessee Education Savings Account Program Can Advance”

  1. Karen L Bracken

    BTW….The American Federation for Children is Betsy “I love Common Core” DeVos’s organization. Gee, what could go wrong??

  2. Karen L Bracken

    This is nothing but a funding scheme to pull private and christian schools into the mud with the public schools. Eventually private schools that accept this money will be required to follow federal and state mandates. Mark my words on this folks. School choice is a good thing but what is being offered up is choice of location not choice of what children are taught. Charters are nothing but privately owned public schools that have to dance to the same rules as the traditional public schools and students in charters do not perform any better than students in traditional public schools. Now they want to drag the private schools into the same dark hole. Maybe not at first but I guarantee once a private school starts taking public money it won’t be long before they will put the squeeze on the private schools.

    1. Susan

      Oh no, scary Boogie Man in the closet! The Boogie Man is not real and neither is Karen’s concern. Does she get these talking points from the teachers’ union? The same place the “oh no, if we have vouchers we’ll have muslim schools” talking point that was used a few years ago when there were zero muslim schools taking vouchers anywhere in the U.S. Thank Jim Wrye for that one.

      Firstly, no-one will be making private schools take ESA money if they don’t want it. Secondly, the Supreme Court has ruled multiple times in multiple ways that ESAs fund parents not schools and that places a barrier to government interference as to what children are taught. When someone spends their food stamps at Publix it doesn’t give the government control of Publix. A private college taking Pell Grants and the GI Bill funds doesn’t open the door to government control of those colleges. The concept that the government will fund an individual for that individual to find and pay for a specific private service is neither new nor controversial.

    2. John Bumpus

      The cost of a child’s public education on average can be calculated and quantified—this amount can be known. Thus, what will we do about it once this amount IS known? In my opinion, it is unacceptable to say that if parents want to educate their child(ren) privately they will just have to do so ‘out-of-pocket’ with no possibility of at least an equivalent ‘offset’ for the expense despite also being taxed to pay for public schools. I am a ‘rock solid’ believer in the old adage that ‘Where there is a will there is a way.’ But Ms. Bracken, in this world nothing is ‘bullet-proof’—I myself refuse to allow THAT standard to control my thinking and my actions. Accordingly, I reject your implicit (and maybe even explicit) view that nothing can be done/should be done to assist parents who want to be in control of their child(ren)’s education.

  3. 83ragtop50

    Now for the legislature to pass legislation provided the opportunity for vouchers for ALL students. It is way past time to dump the failing public schools that consume gobs of $$$$.

  4. Jay Are

    The only “savings’ I see here, are the usual savings confiscated from working people, as taxes, to pay for another taxpayer exploitation scam, offering tax funded favoritism, to a few politically favored tax suckers.

    1. Susan

      As a resident of a county with a 5 year capital plan to spend $500 million for new school construction the “savings” I see is $50 million dollars for every school we don’t have to build since a private school would then cover the construction cost of their own school building. (Plus savings on the debt service on that $50M with interest rates that have almost doubled in the last six months.)

      You know, $50 million here and $50 million there starts adding up the real tax payer savings pretty quickly.