‘It has not been properly vetted’: Local education leaders question school voucher program

A student takes notes
A student takes notes(Action News 5)
Published: Jul. 14, 2022 at 5:24 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Tennessee’s highly contentious school voucher program is set to begin immediately after a judge lifted an injunction that prevented it from being implemented for years.

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee’s administration will immediately begin rolling out his long-blocked school voucher program, known as Education Savings Account, in Nashville and Shelby County.

In 2019, Tennessee General Assembly approved the three-year pilot program. But only students in Metro Nashville and Memphis-Shelby County Public School Districts met certain income requirements.

Both districts, along with other entities, challenged the legality of the statute and sued.

In May, Tennessee’s highest court sided with Lee’s administration, saying the program did not violate the state’s constitution.

The case was kicked back to the lower court, which lifted the injunction that’s been in place since 2020.

The state’s Department of Education is working to make ESA resources available online in the coming days.

The deadline for enrollment would be based on participating schools, but the state attorney general’s office said the state has not had any communication with potential participating schools.

As it stands, eligible families would be allowed to use up to about $7,000 in public tax money on private school tuition and other pre-approved expenses.

“I do think it’s very hasty unadvisable for the state to try and do this this soon,” Memphis-Shelby County Education Association’s Keith Williams said. “Particularly because it has not been properly vetted. They don’t know the impact; they don’t know the number of students. But it could be so that the district would not be able to function if a sizable amount of students or parents would choose this option and we don’t have any results of what it would look like in those schools.”

The goal of the program is to enroll up to 5,000 students in the first year, potentially reaching as many as 15,000 students in its fifth year.

Although the lower court lifted the injunction, the three-judge panel is still considering claims that the program violates educational and equal protection provisions.

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