ESA School Voucher Case Appealed to Tennessee Supreme Court

Parents from Davidson and Shelby Counties have appealed the ESA Voucher decision to the Tennessee Supreme Court so their children can attend a school that meets their educational needs. Like other Tennessee parents seeking alternatives to public schools, their fate is now in the hands of Tennessee’s highest court.

A Davidson County Chancellor ruled earlier this year holding that Tennessee’s ESA program is unconstitutional under the “Home Rule” provision of the Tennessee Constitution, a ruling that appellants contend is a broad expansion of previous supreme court decisions that ultimately deprives them of a quality education for their children. The Chancellor’s decision was affirmed by the Tennessee Court of Appeals on September 29th. In addition to the state administration, several public interest organizations have joined the court battle for educational choice in Tennessee, among those are the Institute for Justice, Beacon Center of Tennessee, and the Liberty Justice Center.

Representing Tennessee families intervening in the appeal, the following statement was issued by the Institute for Justice (IJ) for this article:

IJ’s argument is that the Home Rule Amendment applies only to counties and municipalities and that the appellate court’s ruling radically expands the Amendment to apply to legislation that has mere “fiscal effects” on a county. In other words, whereas before a law had to actually regulate a county or municipality, the lower court held that a law violated the Amendment if it regulated a third party if that regulation had an indirect fiscal effect on a county. This ruling is a major departure from past precedents of the Tennessee Supreme Court, which is why we are challenging it.” – David Hodges, Educational Choice Attorney, Institute for Justice

Critics of Tennessee’s ESA program, including plaintiffs Davidson County Metropolitan School District and Shelby County, contend that vouchers will subtract much needed financial resources from local schools. However, the Beacon Center of Tennessee has published definitive research to the contrary stating that Shelby County alone could save $2000 per student annually. Other states are finding similar results. Ohio legislators recently enacted legislation expanding their existing ESA program to include a broader demographic of students.

Tennessee Legislators enacted the ESA Pilot Program in 2019. For background on the Tennessee Court of Appeals ESA decision, ESA law, and related school choice cases, a link is provided here.

Source: Submitted by David Seal: a retired Jefferson County educator, as well as a recognized artist and local businessman. He has also served Jefferson County as a County Commissioner and is a lobbyist for the people on issues such as eminent domain, property rights, education, and broadband accessibility on the state level.