Parents urge Tennessee Supreme Court to end school voucher program

The controversial ESA program allows a limited number of eligible students to directly receive their share of state and local education funds if they attend a private school in Davidson or Shelby County.
Parents claim the program is unfair for students in public schools vs. private schools.
Published: Sep. 19, 2022 at 5:31 PM CDT
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) - A panel of Davidson County Chancery Court judges heard arguments in two cases Monday that challenge Governor Bill Lee’s Education Savings Account program that began implementation in August.

Commonly known as school vouchers, the Tennessee General Assembly previously passed the ESA in 2019, establishing a program allowing a limited number of eligible students to directly receive their share of state and local education funds, which would ordinarily be provided to the public school system they attend, to pay for private school education and associated expense.

The plaintiffs, Davidson and Shelby County parents and community members, argued that the voucher program illegally diverts taxpayer funds meant for public schools in those counties to private schools. They added that the program also violated the Tennessee Constitution and state law by treating residents in those counties differently from their counterparts across the state.

“My daughter’s public school is wonderful. But it already struggles with funding for textbooks, technology, and enough teachers to keep class sizes down,” said plaintiff Roxanne McEwen, whose child is a student in Metro Nashville Public Schools. “It’s wrong to take money away from our public schools – which serve every child who walks through their doors – when they are already underfunded.”

The plaintiffs went on to say that the voucher program would exclude participating private schools from complying with the academic, accountability, and governance standards that apply to public schools.

“The state and the other defendants want the court to throw out this case before the plaintiffs have even had a chance to fully air their claims,” said Chris Wood, partner at Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd. “Our clients have asserted multiple violations of the constitution and state law that the court has not yet heard or decided.”