Tennessee Court of Appeals upholds decision calling ESA program unconstitutional

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Posted at 6:24 PM, Sep 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-29 19:35:57-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — The Tennessee Court of Appeals ruled against Governor Bill Lee's school voucher program.

A three-member panel of the Court of Appeals agreed with the Davidson County Chancery Court's decision that the Education Savings Account Plan is unconstitutional.

In that decision, Chancellor Anne C. Martin ruled that because the law only applies to students in Davidson and Shelby Counties, it violates the "Home Rule" provision.

And the Court of Appeals agreed, concluding that, "The ESA Act is unconstitutional as applied to Davidson and Shelby counties. Costs are taxed to the State of Tennessee, for which execution may issue if necessary."

Nashville Mayor John Cooper was one of several who criticized the plan because he said it would take state money away from public schools. Back in February, the city of Nashville filed a lawsuit against the state over the voucher law, calling it unconstitutional.

Cooper released the following statement in response to the Court of Appeals ruling:

“Metro Nashville students deserve a high-quality, well-resourced education,” said Mayor Cooper. “To achieve that important goal, public schools in Nashville need more investment, not less. The challenges of COVID-19 require all of us to work together, more than ever, on behalf of students and their families. Our office remains committed to providing all young Nashvillians with equitable access to an excellent education.”

“This is an important victory for local government in Tennessee,” said Bob Cooper, Metro Director of Law. “It reaffirms that the State cannot impose burdens on a select few counties or cities without their permission.”

Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Stewart released the following statement:

“The Court of Appeals got it right: Governor Lee’s voucher plan is unconstitutional. You can’t have laws that place huge burdens on just two counties.”

CEO of the Beacon Center, Justin Owen responded to the ruling saying, "While we respect the court’s ruling, we look forward to taking this case to the Tennessee Supreme Court. We are confident the Supreme Court will find that the state’s careful attempt to throw a lifeline to parents stuck in the worst-performing schools is in fact constitutional. These families are hurt every day that the status quo remains in place and we hope the Supreme Court will give them the educational options they so desperately need and deserve."


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