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.