NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Nov. 28, 2022) – Last week, a Tennessee state three-judge panel issued a final order rejecting efforts by the Metropolitan Government of Nashville & Davidson County and Shelby County to block a scholarship program for students from low-income families. Now, over 2,000 families each have access to more than $8,000 in funds from the Tennessee Education Savings Account (ESA) program to allow their children to attend the independent school of their choice.
A coalition of parents and schools, including the Greater Praise Christian Academy, was represented by attorneys from the Liberty Justice Center, a national law firm. The Greater Praise coalition argued that the lawsuit should be dismissed because the ESA program had not caused the plaintiffs—Davidson and Shelby Counties—any injury.
The trial court agreed with the Greater Praise coalition. In its decision dismissing the case, the court stated that the counties were improperly asking the court “to wade into a policy debate.”
Buck Dougherty, senior attorney at the Liberty Justice Center, said, “Today’s ruling is a resounding victory for educational freedom for thousands of families across Tennessee. After fighting for over two years to gain access to better education opportunities through the ESA program, our clients and thousands of Tennessee children in failing school districts will finally be able to attend the schools of their choice that best fit their needs.
In 2019, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed a law that provides scholarships to children from low-income families in Nashville and Memphis to be used to attend the school of their choosing. 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.
On May 18, 2022, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled the scholarship program for children from low-income families is constitutional and may go into effect.
In August 2022, a Tennessee state trial court denied additional efforts to block the scholarship program, allowing access to more than $8,000 in funds from the Tennessee Education Savings Account program to be used by more than 2,000 families.
Case filings are available here: The Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County v. Tennessee Department of Education