VITAL POLICY – Third Time May be a Charm for School Vouchers – Tennessee Supreme Court to Hear Case

David Seal

In a court order filed February 4, 2021, the Tennessee Supreme Court granted permission for appeal and ordered the school voucher case to be set for oral arguments upon filing of briefs. After the General Assembly enacted the controversial ESA school voucher pilot program in 2019, a Chancery Court in Davidson County ruled that ESA’s were unconstitutional under the Home Rule provision of the Tennessee Constitution. The state administration quickly appealed the decision to the Tennessee Court of Appeals, which later affirmed the Chancery Court decision. The Institute for Justice is representing two Tennessee families that are intervening as defendants to support the ESA voucher program for their children’s education. ESA law was sagaciously written to apply only to Shelby and Davidson Counties because of the poor standing of their schools based on criteria determined by the Tennessee Department of Education.

The fate of vouchers may depend in part on how the Tennessee Supreme Court applies the “home rule” provision. Plaintiffs Shelby and Davidson Counties, and others, argue that home rule applies to both school districts and local governments. Defendants Tennessee, two intervenors, and several amici argue that “home rule” applies only to local governments and not school districts that are separate entities from government. The home rule provision of the Tennessee Constitution was designed to prevent legislators from selectively imposing laws on local governments.

School vouchers are vigorously supported by several public interest groups that are determined to see school choice implemented nationally. The Beacon Center of Tennessee and Americans for Prosperity – Tennessee (AFP-TN) are two such groups that are engaged in the ESA battle in Tennessee.

In a statement issued for this article:

We are pleased the state Supreme Court will hear the case to empower students and teachers with more educational options. The learning disruptions our students have faced demonstrate we need to focus on student-centered solutions that prioritize students over buildings and bureaucracies. No matter the outcome, AFP will continue working to give every student and family the flexibility they currently lack to access a better education.” 

Tori Venable, State Director, Americans for Prosperity – Tennessee

Activists continue to press for school choice in Tennessee in the form of school vouchers for all students. In 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for public funding to be used at private religious schools in Espinoza v. Montana.


Source: VITAL POLICY by David Seal: David Seal is 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.