The Tennessee Supreme Court overturned lower court rulings and paved the way for Governor Bill Lee’s college savings account program to provide public funds for students to enroll in private schools.
In a ruling on Wednesday, the High Court found that Lee’s voucher scheme, which will provide funds to low-income students in Davidson and Shelby County school districts to pay for a private school, did not breach the Tennessee Home Rule Amendment. The ruling overturned rulings by a Davidson County Chancellor and the Tennessee Court of Appeals.
The court agreed with lower courts that Metro Nashville City Council and Shelby County had standing to sue, but found the college savings account program was not “unconstitutional” based on the Home Rule Amendment, which requires local governments to be allowed to vote or hold referendums on legislative action that only applies to one or two counties statewide.
“The majority concluded that the ESA Act is not applicable to the Complainant Counties because the Act regulates or governs the conduct of local education agencies and not the counties. Thus, the law does not violate the Home Rule Amendment,” the court concluded.
Chief Justice Roger Page wrote the majority opinion and Justices Sharon Lee and Holly Kirby wrote dissenting opinions on the portion dealing with the Home Rule amendment.
Reacting to the ruling, Lee said Wednesday, “Every child deserves a high-quality education, and today’s opinion from the Tennessee Supreme Court on ESAs brings parents in Memphis and Nashville closer to finding the best education adapted to their children.
Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, who voted for the college savings account bill, said he was ‘grateful the Supreme Court recognized the pilot program does not violate the Home Rule Amendment. of the Constitution.
“It is extremely important that parents have as much choice as possible in the education of their children. I am confident that the state will continue to win in court on this legislation and parents and students will soon be able to access this much-needed program,” McNally said in a statement.
Metro Nashville Public Schools Director Adrienne Battle reacted by criticizing the good guys, saying they were “undermining” public schools and not working in other states.
“We strongly disagree with the court’s opinion which undermines the principles of local control and will hurt Davidson County taxpayers who will ultimately be required to pay the state’s voucher system,” Battle said. in a press release.
Battle argued that the Metro Nashville Public Schools District is “significantly” underfunded by the old state funding formula, as well as the new one the Legislature passed in April.
“If the Private Voucher Act goes into effect, this underfunding will only get worse to the detriment of Nashville’s children,” Battle said.
In a joint statement released Wednesday, the Senate Democratic Caucus said, “Private education vouchers, paid for with public school tax dollars, do not work and this program has failed everywhere it has been tried. In that decision, the Supreme Court erased constitutional protections of local control and years of precedent. Not only does this decision inaugurate a terrible education policy, but it invites greater political interference which surely results in the loss of freedom and independence of local governments from state interference.
The Legislative Assembly passed the voucher program in 2019 when then-Speaker of the House Glen Casada held the House voting committee open for nearly 45 minutes and worked with the chamber to break a tied 49-49.
Ultimately, Republican State Rep. Jason Zachary agreed to change his vote, allowing the bill to pass, if Knox County was removed as a good district.
The FBI has since been investigating the House to determine whether illegal favors were granted in exchange for votes.
State Rep. Kent Calfee, a Republican from Kingston who voted against the voucher bill, told the Tennessee Lookout this year he was standing on the House balcony when he heard Casada discuss of State Representative John Mark Windle’s offer of the rank of General in the National Guard for his vote.
He said he heard Casada say, “I can’t promote you, but the governor can. I’ll call the governor.
Calfee also said he discussed the matter in a meeting with Lee at the governor’s office where Lee said, “You know, you talk a little bad about me.” Calfee said he replied, “I told the truth.” They talked about other things, and then Calfee said the Governor hugged him.
Lee denied any knowledge of an encounter with Calfee.