Parents, school leaders ask court to toss Nashville mayor’s lawsuit blocking scholarships for low-income students

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Feb. 26, 2020) – 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, a national Supreme Court case-winning law firm, is representing the schools and three families who would qualify to participate in theEducation Savings Account (ESA) Pilot Program for the 2020-2021 school year.

The two Memphis schools offer educational opportunities for students from low-income families assigned to chronically low-performing schools. Kay Johnson, director of Greater Praise Christian Academy in Memphis, recognizes the potential to expand her school’s impact and welcome more students through the ESA program.

“As the director of a small private school, I know that the ESA program is critical for opening doors to low-income children to receive a solid education,” said Kay Johnson, director of Greater Praise Christian Academy in Memphis, Tenn. “Many of our students have been written off by public schools and we provide an opportunity for them to thrive academically and emotionally. Parents should be able to make the best choice for their kids. It builds a future for these kids and our communities.”

One family represented is located in Nashville and two are in Memphis. Two of the families have children zoned to attend schools in the Achievement School District, which encompasses schools performing in the bottom five percent in the state. All students who would qualify for the ESA program scholarships 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.

“It’s despicable and heartless that the mayors of Nashville and Shelby County would use taxpayer dollars to stop children from escaping their failing neighborhood schools. Our clients cannot afford a fancy house in a neighborhood with a good school. They need help, and they need it now,” said Brian Kelsey, senior attorney at the Liberty Justice Center. “Our school leaders started these schools in low-income neighborhoods because they saw their local schools on the failing school list year after year. They decided to do something about it, and we will defend their right to educate even more children.”

Liberty Justice Center filed a Motion to Intervene and a proposed Motion to Dismiss in The Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County et al., v. Tennessee Department of Education on February 21, 2020. The filing documents are available here.

BACKGROUND: In 2019, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed a law that provides scholarships of approximately $7,000 to children from low-income families in Nashville and Memphis. Families can use these scholarships to attend a school of their choice that fits their unique learning needs. This program is the first of its kind exclusively for low-income families in Tennessee. This type of program has proven effective and critical in other parts of the country, including Wisconsin, Florida, Ohio, Arizona, Nevada and Washington D.C.

On February 7, 2020, the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, Metropolitan Nashville Board of Public Education and Shelby County Government filed a lawsuit in the Chancery Court for Davidson County, Tenn. to block the program. The ESA program is set to begin in August 2020.

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