Metro Nashville asks Tennessee Supreme Court for another look at ESA decision
(The Center Square) – Rather than accepting the Tennessee Supreme Court’s recent decision to allow the state’s pilot Education Savings Account program to move forward, Metro Nashville is asking…
(The Center Square) – Rather than accepting the Tennessee Supreme Court’s recent decision to allow the state’s pilot Education Savings Account program to move forward, Metro Nashville is asking the court to rethink its decision.
Nashville Mayor John Cooper said that the action was based on two reasons, stating that he believes the court incorrectly ruled that Metro Nashville Public Schools are not part of Metro Nashville government. He also said that Nashville’s government believes that the ESA program was unconstitutional because it applies to just two of 95 counties in the state, Davidson and Shelby counties.
Metro Nashville Director of Law Wally Dietz said that he believes Metro Nashville has a strong case for the court to reconsider its decision.
The program, which would have started in Nashville and Shelby County, had been challenged based upon the state’s Home Rule Amendment. The court did state, however, that the counties do have standing to challenge the program.
The nonprofit Beacon Center of Tennessee, which joined the lawsuit along with the Institute for Justice to represent parents, supported the court’s decision.
“MNPS and Shelby County Schools have consistently failed to provide every child with the education they deserve,” said Beacon Center President and CEO Justin Owen. “They’ve had their chance, now it’s time to put parents in the driver’s seat. We are glad to be moving ahead with the ESA program, and we look forward to giving these children the lifeline they so desperately need.”
The case is set to return to the trial court for a ruling on its legality outside of the Home Rule Amendment.
“The Education Savings Account program has always been about helping Tennessee students — giving eligible families a choice in education, an opportunity they currently do not have,” Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery said after the court’s ruling. “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.”
The program was aimed at allowing low-income students in low-performing schools in Davidson and Shelby counties to use vouchers to attend a school of their choice. Those students were set to receive approximately $7,000 to choose their school even though, at that point, schools in Shelby County spent $13,000 per student each year and Nashville schools spent $16,000 per student.
“The school voucher plan isn’t just flawed from a legal perspective,” Cooper said. “It’s also bad policy.”
Cooper said that voucher programs have not provided better education to students in other states and he said that the legislation to create the ESA program only passed after several legislators were promised that the voucher program would never reach their county.
Cooper also said that he believes that the ESA program and the state’s new public school funding formula, the Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement, are “threatening Nashville school funding on multiple fronts.”
Metro Nashville Director of Schools Adrienne Battle called the ESA law a “misguided law” while Metro Nashville School Board Chairman Christiane Buggs said the bill targeted the state’s most diverse school districts.
Sen. Brenda Gilmore, D-Nashville, said that she believes “public dollars should not go to private schools.”