Government of Nashville v. Tennessee Department of Education

Parents and school leaders urge judge to toss lawsuit blocking a new scholarship program for low-income families.

A group of parents and school leaders are urging a state judge to toss Nashville Mayor John Cooper’s lawsuit against a new scholarship program for low-income families. Liberty Justice Center is representing the schools and three families who would qualify to participate in the Education Savings Account (ESA) Pilot Program for the 2020-2021 school year.

The new scholarship program was signed into law by Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee in 2019. The first of its kind program in the state provides scholarships of approximately $7,000 to children from low-income families so they can attend a school of their choice that fits their unique learning needs. In February 2020, Nashville’s Mayor filed a lawsuit to block the program. He was joined by the Metropolitan Nashville Board of Public Education and Shelby County Government.

The two Memphis schools offer educational opportunities for students from low-income families assigned to chronically low-performing schools. The ESA program would enable the schools to increase their impact and welcome more students.

All students who would qualify for the ESA program scholarships, including the families represented by Liberty Justice Center, are currently assigned to schools that are consistently and historically the lowest performing in the state. Their families do not have the economic means to move to areas with higher quality schools.

The schools and families maintain that the case should be dismissed. The claims in this lawsuit run directly contrary to the text of the Tennessee constitution and binding Tennessee Supreme Court precedent, as even the Mayor’s legal counsel recognized when he served as the state’s attorney general. Moreover, state law specifically bars the Metropolitan Nashville Board of Public Education from diverting dollars intended to educate kids into this kind of legal action.


Buck Dougherty

Buck Dougherty

Buck Dougherty is a Senior Counsel at the Liberty Justice Center, where he litigates in trial and appellate courts on behalf of everyday citizens in order to protect their civil liberties and preserve their constitutional rights.

Case Press Releases

Case In The News

The Tennessean
June 13, 2022

(The Tennessean)—The Tennessee Supreme Court has declined to rehear the case challenging the constitutionality of Gov. Bill Lee’s controversial school voucher program. Davidson and Shelby county governments filed a petition asking the court to rehear the case following its May 18 ruling that found the program does not violate the...

The Washington Post
May 18, 2022

(The Washington Post)—Tennessee’s highest court ruled Wednesday that Republican Gov. Bill Lee’s school voucher program does not violate the state’s constitution, clearing the path for families to soon use taxpayer dollars on private schools. The Tennessee Supreme Court’s 3-2 decision overturns several lower court rulings that had previously determined the...

May 21, 2020

(Chalkbeat) – The state attorney general on Thursday asked the Tennessee Supreme Court to step in and lift orders by two lower courts that prevent the state from moving forward with its education savings account program. The state filed several motions in its race to launch the controversial voucher program...

Associated Press
May 19, 2020

(AP) — Tennessee won’t be able to implement a contentious school voucher program while the state continues to fight back constitutional challenges over the law that would allow parents to use public tax dollars on private school tuition, according to a ruling issued Tuesday. The latest decision from the Tennessee...

Antelope Valley Press
May 2, 2020

(Antelope Valley Press) — A Tennessee judge on Wednesday weighed a wide range of arguments surrounding the legal battle over the state’s much-debated school voucher program, noting that she plans on making a decision soon to ensure parents have enough time to plan ahead for the 2020-21 school year. The...

March 6, 2020

(AP) — A Tennessee judge on Friday agreed to allow school choice advocates to intervene in a lawsuit challenging the legality of the state’s school voucher program. That means the Liberty Justice Center, the Institute for Justice and the Beacon Center of Tennessee will all have a chance to defend...

Case Documents

February 21, 2020
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July 18, 2022
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Government of Nashville v. Tennessee Department of Education


February 21, 2020


Chancery Court for Davidson County, Tennessee




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