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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Feb 4, 2021) – Today, the Tennessee Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal from the Court of Appeals on the constitutionality of Governor Bill Lee’s Education Savings Account pilot program to provide low-income students in Nashville and Memphis with a $7,000 scholarship to attend the school of their choice. The appeal was filed by Liberty Justice Center and others in November on behalf of parents and schools who hope to participate in the program.
A group of parents and school leaders represented by the Liberty Justice Center, a national Supreme Court case-winning law firm, is fighting to protect the ESA program so their children and students have the opportunity to escape poor-performing public schools.
Liberty Justice Center issued the following statement:
“We are thrilled that the Supreme Court has decided to take this important case to protect the rights of thousands of low-income students to attend the school that best fits their needs,” said Brian Kelsey, senior attorney at the Liberty Justice Center. “Tennessee students and families now have the opportunity to be heard and continue their fight to narrow gaps in educational inequality and access.”
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. On March 2, 2020, a group of families with public school students represented by the Southern Poverty Law Center and American Civil Liberties Union filed an additional lawsuit. The ESA program was set to begin in August 2020.
In May 2020, Nashville Chancellor Anne C. Martin blocked the scholarship program from going into effect. Chancellor Martin allowed an appeal of her order right away. Liberty Justice Center appealed the ruling to the Tennessee Court of Appeals and the state Supreme Court.
Case filings are available here: The Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County v. Tennessee Department of Education
Order of Application Granted, Feb 4, 2021