In Government of Nashville v. Tennessee Department of Education, the Liberty Justice Center represents the two school leaders and three families who would qualify to participate in the Education Savings Account (ESA) Pilot Program for the 2020-2021 school year. The ESA Pilot Program provides scholarships to low-income families assigned to the schools that are consistently and historically the lowest-performing in the state. The families can use the scholarship funds to attend schools that provide better education opportunities for their children.
The article below by Daily Memphian.appeared on August 5, 2020, on
Under the program, which is on hold because of a Davidson County Chancery Court ruling, qualifying students in the two affected school districts would receive about $7,300 in state funds to enroll in participating private schools. Up to 5,000 students were to be allowed the first year with a cap of 15,000 at five years.
Cooper told Appeals Court judges Wednesday because of the way the bill was written, it could apply only to Metro Nashville and Shelby County districts based on the number of low-performing schools during previous years.
Jim Newsom, who argued the state’s case for the Attorney General’s Office, contended Metro Nashville and Shelby County had no standing to file the lawsuit because school systems perform separate functions and are an “arm of the state itself.”
Appeals Court Judge Andy Bennett and Neal McBrayer queried Newsom on his point, with Bennett accusing him of minimizing the role county commissions play by exerting pressure on school boards by approving or not approving budgets.
“Are you arguing the LEAs don’t have standing?” McBrayer asked, responding to Newsom’s contention.
“No one has standing under the Home Rule provision to challenge this,” Newsom responded.
State Sen. Brian Kelsey, a Germantown Republican representing Greater Praise Christian Academy parents in a countersuit against the state, told the court the local governments are “trying to have their cake and eat it too.”
“They simply have an education mandate, not an ESA mandate,” said Kelsey, senior attorney for Chicago-based Liberty Justice Center.
Kelsey argued the school districts will be paid “extra money” for the first three years to cover the cost of losing students and the funding that follows them to private schools.
Bennett pointed out that the legislation allows reimbursement “subject to appropriation” by the General Assembly. Kelsey responded that it has been paid for so far, and the question would only be “ripe” if the Legislature refused to fund it.
Kelsey also said the school systems would receive a “windfall” because not all of the local money approved per student would follow them to private schools.
“They leave a portion behind,” Kelsey said, about $4,000 per student.
Read the full article on Daily Memphian.