The Tennessee Supreme Court struck down arguments that Gov. Bill Lee’s school voucher program was in violation of the state constitution side it only applied to districts in Davidson and Shelby counties.
The state’s highest court issued its split decision in a statement noting that a “home rule” provision in the state’s constitution, which lower courts had cited as an obstacle, did not apply to the voucher law.
Justices Holly Kirby and Sharon Lee wrote the dissenting opinion.
What is the ESA program?
The ESA program allows eligible students to use state and local money toward education expenses, as well as tuition or fees at approved private schools. The ESA program will begin in the 2020-21 school year.
- The education savings account program allows parents to send their children to private school using public money.
- The educational choice program was the focus of Gov. Bill Lee’s 2019 legislative agenda.
- The parental choice program only applied to Davidson and Shelby counties.
- Both Davidson and Shelby counties sued, arguing the program violated the state constitution’s home rule provision.
TENNESSEE SUPREME COURT HOLDS THAT EDUCATION SAVINGS ACCOUNT PILOT PROGRAM DOES NOT VIOLATE HOME RULE AMENDMENT OF TENNESSEE CONSTITUTION
According to the Tennessee Department of Education website, Tennessee’s Education Savings Account (ESA) program is planned to launch for the 2020-21 school year in Davidson and Shelby counties. With the ESA program, eligible students assigned to schools in Davidson County, Shelby County, or the Achievement School District can use state and local Basic Education Program (BEP) funds toward expenses, such as tuition or fees, at participating private schools.
Public Chapter 506, which was passed by the Tennessee General Assembly and signed by Governor Bill Lee in spring 2019, established the ESA program, providing additional education choices for students. Gov. Bill Lee, in his first State of the State address before a joint session of the 111th Tennessee General Assembly on March 4, 2019, said, “Low income students deserve the same opportunity as every other kid in this state, and we will need a bold plan that will help level the playing field. We need to challenge the status quo, increase competition, and not slow down until every student in Tennessee has access to a great education. We’re not going to get big results from our struggling schools by nibbling around the edges. That is why we need education savings accounts in Tennessee this year.”