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 excerpt of the article below by Meghan Mangrum appeared on February 4, 2021 on Tennessean.
The Tennessee Supreme Court on Thursday agreed to hear an appeal of Gov. Bill Lee’s school voucher program and whether the administration can move forward with one of its signature education initiatives.
A Nashville judge declared Lee’s education savings account program unconstitutional in 2020 and the Tennessee Court of Appeals upheld that decision. Now, the appeal goes before the state’s highest court.
In September, a three-member panel of the Court of Appeals upheld a previous decision by Davidson County Chancery Court Judge Anne Martin, who ruled against the school-voucher law because it only applies to Davidson and Shelby counties.
The state attorney general quickly appealed, hoping to kick off the program for the 2020-21 school year, but the courts blocked the state from receiving applications and preparing for the program’s start.
The program would allow students in Davidson and Shelby school districts to attend private schools and pay for it, in part, with public funds. The General Assembly passed the controversial law in 2019 over the objections of officials in Davidson and Shelby counties. The education savings account program is one of Lee’s signature education initiatives.
In its appeal, the state argued that education policy is the state’s responsibility — and that the local constitutional protections, known as “home rule,” don’t apply in this case.
“Not only is the ESA program constitutional, but it is also necessary for families who need a choice,” said Beacon Center of Tennessee Vice President of Legal Affairs Braden Boucek
Beacon, a conservative think-tank in Nashville, and other supporters joined the case.
“Whether due to problems with district-mandated remote learning due to COVID-19 or just trying to find a school that meets the needs of their children, families deserve a say in their children’s education,” Boucek said in a statement. “We are confident that the Tennessee Supreme Court will rule that this program is constitutional and allow it to move forward.”
The Liberty Justice Center, a nonprofit law firm, also joined the appeal. Tennessee Sen Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, who voted in favor of the law, is a senior attorney for the center.
“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,” Kelsey said in a statement. “Tennessee students and families now have the opportunity to be heard and continue their fight to narrow gaps in educational inequality and access.”
Shaka Mitchell, the Tennessee state director of the American Federation for Children, previously characterized the lower court’s decision as “putting the educational futures of thousands of kids in jeopardy.”
He praised the Supreme Court’s decision Thursday.
“The Education Savings Account program is, and always has been, a program to benefit kids and parents and empower them to make the best decision for their family. Ultimately, all parents want what is best for their child, and for their education,” Mitchell said in a statement.
Opponents say the law will unfairly divert scarce public funding in some of the state’s most cash-strapped districts to private schools.
Metro Nashville Public Schools declined to comment Thursday, instead deferring to Metro Legal. The district was previously removed as a plaintiff in the lawsuit by the courts and the city’s legal department has argued the case on behalf of Davidson and Shelby counties.
Metro Nashville Board of Education member Abigail Tylor weighed in on Twitter, though.
“What a waste of taxpayer dollars. And you’re not even representing vouchers correctly. Low-income students can’t bridge the difference bet. your voucher $ and private school tuition/fees,” Tylor said. “Private schools taking vouchers remain unaffordable for low-income students even w/ vouchers”.
The case has not been set for oral argument yet.
Read the full article on Tennessean.