Tennessee appeals court rules governor’s school voucher program unconstitutional

An Orangeburg County Circuit Court judge will hear arguments Wednesday afternoon in a lawsuit...
An Orangeburg County Circuit Court judge will hear arguments Wednesday afternoon in a lawsuit filed to block Gov. Henry McMaster from using funds from the CARES Act to help qualifying families afford private school tuition.(WCSC/WIS)
Updated: Sep. 29, 2020 at 5:58 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Governor Bill Lee’s controversial “school voucher” program suffered another blow Tuesday when the Tennessee Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s decision that the Education Savings Account Act is unconstitutional.

The ESA program, also known as “school vouchers," would give more than $7,000 in state money to qualifying parents in Shelby and Davidson counties to help send students to private schools.

Lee signed the law last year and it was scheduled to go into effect this fall.

Both counties sued over the program, saying it violated “Home Rule” protections because it only applies to the two counties.

A lower court agreed, declaring the program unconstitutional and illegal in May.

The appeals court’s decision came Tuesday, signed by Judge Andy Bennett who ruled: “We affirm the trial court as to the standing of Davidson and Shelby counties to bring this action and as to the determination that the ESA Act is unconstitutional as applied to Davidson and Shelby counties. Costs are taxed to the State of Tennessee, for which execution may issue if necessary."

State Rep. Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis, said he was “elated” at the decision. He released this statement:

“I am elated that the courts upheld the lower court’s decision in the fact that ESA’s/Vouchers directed only at Shelby and Davidson Counties is unconstitutional. Over one billion tax dollars wasted in the failed experiment of the state run Achievement School District. Millions have been parked in the budget for the failed ESA/Voucher program. State school boards and charter commissions overriding the decisions of the local school boards on decisions to approve charter applications. All of these policies affect mostly minority and poor children and families in Memphis and Nashville. It is intentional. It is this very ideology, that you can experiment with biased educational policies, that in essence makes commodities out of minority and underserved children. These efforts continue to drive division in our state.”

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