On Wednesday, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that Governor Bill Lee’s college savings account program was constitutional after being held up in court for two years. The Education Savings Account Pilot Program, also known as the ESA Act, was controversial legislation by Governor Lee that barely passed in 2019. The law would allow certain students in Davidson and Shelby counties to receive public education funds to attend private schools. Both counties sued the state for violating the Tennessee Constitution by targeting Nashville and Memphis.
Initially, the legislation was ruled unconstitutional by the Davidson County Chancery Court on the grounds that it violates the home rule provision of the Tennessee Constitution. The Tennessee Court of Appeals upheld the chancery court’s decision. The state appealed to the Tennessee Supreme Court, which ultimately voted 3-2 in favor of keeping the legislation.
“The majority concluded that the ESA Act is not applicable to the claimant counties because the statute regulates or governs the conduct of local educational agencies and not the counties”, read the review. “Thus, the law does not violate the Home Rule Amendment.”
Like noted by The Tennessee JournalThe decision comes shortly after Lee and the Tennessee General Assembly abandoned the basic education program funding formula upon which the ESA program is based, leaving the implementation of the voucher program in question.
Update: MNPS Director of Schools Adrienne Battle released this statement following the Tennessee Supreme Court Decision:
Private school vouchers undermine our public schools and have failed to meet the learning needs of students who have used them in other states where they have been tried.
We strongly disagree with the court’s opinion that undermines the principles of local control and will hurt Davidson County taxpayers who will ultimately be required to pay for the state’s voucher system.
Metropolitan schools are already grossly underfunded by the state of Tennessee under the BEP and TISA. If the Private School Voucher Act goes into effect, this underfunding will only get worse to the detriment of Nashville’s children.