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After a 3-year legal battle, the Tennessee Supreme Court says a school voucher program can launch in Nashville and Memphis

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Rachel Iacovone
/
WPLN
The Tennessee Supreme Court has ruled in favor of the state in the education savings account program case.

The Tennessee Supreme Court has upheld a 2019 law that allows taxpayer dollars to be used toward private school tuition for students in Nashville and Memphis. The ruling is a win for Republican Gov. Bill Lee, who has been pushing for school vouchers.

The ruling caps a years-long legal battle over the constitutionality of the education savings account program. In a 3-2 decision, the Tennessee Supreme Court said students in Davidson and Shelby counties can take money that would have funded their public-school education and put it toward private school tuition.

Lee argues these scholarships would allow low-income families to send their kids to better schools. Nashville and Memphis school districts say the program unfairly targets them and will strip the districts of money.

Two justices dissented, claiming the law violates the Home Rule Amendment, which doesn’t allow state law to target specific counties.

In a statement, the director of Metro Nashville Public Schools says, “Private school vouchers undermine our public schools and have failed to support the learning needs of students who have used them in other states where they have been tried.”

A spokesman for Nashville’s mayor, John Cooper, also spoke against the program, adding that, “diverting scarce state school funds away from our public school system and into the hands of private schools is directly against the interest of Nashville’s children and families.” He said they will keep fighting to keep taxpayer dollars for public education only.

Outgoing Attorney General Herbert H. Slatery released a statement in support, saying the program “has always been about helping Tennessee students — giving eligible families a choice in education, an opportunity they currently do not have.”

The case now goes back to a trial court to resolve any remaining issues.