NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — The Tennessee Supreme Court released its opinion Wednesday that Gov. Bill Lee's school voucher plan — which will include an education savings account — was constitutional.
Enacted in 2019 by the legislature would establish a program for students to receive money directly for their education rather than a public school system to pay for private education. During a five-year period, up to 15,000 students could become eligible for these benefits in the Metro Nashville Public School system, Shelby County Schools and the Achievement School District.
"The education savings account program (ESA) has always been about helping Tennessee students-giving' eligible families a choice in education, an opportunity they currently do not have," Attorney General Herbert Slatery said. "It challenged the status quo — a move that is always met with resistance. We applaud the court’s decision that this pilot program is indeed Constitutional. While there are further court proceedings that need to take place, this is a major step forward."
Lower courts, including the Davidson County Chancery Court and the Tennessee Court of Appeals, previously ruled they weren't constitutional. That decision was appealed in 2021.
The Tennessee Supreme Court's decision was met with rebuke from Nashville leaders, including MNPS Superintendent Adrienne Battle and Mayor John Cooper. District leaders were already concerned about the transition from the Basic Education Program to the Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement Act, which will calculate how much school districts get per student. Legislators locked in TISA during this past legislative session.
"Private school vouchers undermine our public schools and have failed to support the learning needs of students who have used them in other states where they have been tried," Battle said. We strongly disagree with the court’s opinion which undermines the principles of local control and will harm Davidson County taxpayers who will ultimately be on the hook to pay for the state’s voucher scheme. Metro Schools are already significantly underfunded by the State of Tennessee under the BEP and TISA. If the private school voucher law goes into effect, this underfunding will only be worsened to the detriment of the children of Nashville."
Cooper's office echoed those sentiments, expressing he was disappointed but would continue to fight the law through all possible avenues.
"The Mayor strongly believes that diverting scarce state school funds away from our public school system and into the hands of private schools is directly against the interest of Nashville’s children and families," spokesperson TJ Ducklo said. "That is especially true when state law arbitrarily and unjustly singles out a few counties, including ours, to effectively receive less money for public schools. Meanwhile, as the state takes money away from Nashville’s schools, Mayor Cooper has made record investments in our schools for two consecutive years, making our teachers the best paid in the state, vastly improving our schools’ technology and infrastructure, and significantly increasing pay for our support staff —including bus drivers, cafeteria workers and paraprofessionals."