Nashville mayor: Vouchers could mean closed schools, underfunding

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Posted at 4:15 PM, Jun 01, 2022

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Nashville's leaders believe if the Tennessee Supreme Court doesn't take a second look at their voucher ruling, it could mean underfunding and closed schools in Nashville.

At a press conference to explain their position on the ruling, MNPS and city leaders said the Education Savings Account (ESA) program will inevitably be a bad deal for the city.

Metro's legal department submitted a petition to the court asking for them to reconsider a key fact in the case.

The court ruled ESAs were constitutional because they didn't violate the Home Rule Amendment. That rule states the legislature can't make rules regulating local governments. The court said the school voucher program regulates local school systems, not the government.

Metro law director Wallace Dietz said the ruling ignores that Metro Nashville-Davidson County is consolidated.

"When the Metro charter was adopted, the old county board of education was abolished and the Metropolitan County School System was created as a part of the Metro Government," said Dietz. "The Supreme Court decision conflicts with this material fact."

The ESA program would only impact two counties: Shelby and Davidson County. Lower courts ruled the idea violated the Home Rule Amendment that was added to the constitution in the 50s.

Nashville Mayor John Cooper also said the voucher program would create more uncertainty in the state's funding of Metro.

"Inevitably we're going to be faced with terrible and impossible financial decisions that could lead to schools closing because of the erosion of financial support from programs siphoning off our resources from vouchers," said Mayor Cooper.

If a second lawsuit filed by parents is stopped by the court, the ESA program could be launched within the year. Despite comments from Governor Bill Lee that there's still a lot of work that needs to be done to do so, city leaders are worried they may have to shift to accommodate the program very quickly.

"The uncertainty of the implementation would be a class A concern if you're going to provide stable funding for our public school system. It's a deep threat," he said.

The court doesn't have to take up Metro's decision. If the court doesn't act, the state would continue to progress with vouchers.

Dietz said the court likely could consolidate both cases against ESAs at the next trial.