Tennessee Supreme Court refuses to rehear school voucher case

  • The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled in May in favor of Governor Bill Lee’s college savings account program.
  • The education savings account program would allow parents to send their children to private school using public money.
  • The governments of Metro Nashville and Shelby County filed a motion asking the court to rehear the case.

The Tennessee Supreme Court has refused to rehear the case challenging the constitutionality of Governor Bill Lee’s controversial school voucher program.

The Davidson and Shelby county governments have filed a motion asking the court to rehear the case following its May 18 ruling that found the program did not violate the home rule provision of the state’s constitution. state by only applying to districts within those counties – a major win for Lee.

Nashville Mayor John Cooper argued that the court did not consider only Metro Nashville public schools because the Nashville and Davidson County school system was part of a metropolitan form of government.

“In the state Supreme Court decision, the court … does not consider MNPS to be the school system of Nashville and Davidson County,” Cooper said at a May 31 news conference. “(It indicates) that the MNPS is not part of the Metro government, and is not a direct financial responsibility of the Metro government. Now we just know that is not the case.”

In an order issued on Monday, the court said it had carefully considered the motion.

“The Court has previously considered the issues raised in the motion during its resolution of the appeal,” the Court said in its one-paragraph order. “The petition is therefore respectfully dismissed.”

Previously:Tennessee Supreme Court rules in favor of Governor Bill Lee’s controversial school voucher program

Mayor of Nashville:‘Majority opinion is wrong’: Nashville asks state Supreme Court to reconsider school voucher ruling

The mayor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Tennessean on Monday.

Under the Education Savings Account program, eligible students could choose to take public funds for their education and apply them to private school tuition instead.

But only select students — particularly those in Metro Nashville and Shelby County public school districts — are part of the three-year pilot program narrowly approved by the Tennessee General Assembly in 2019.

County governments immediately challenged the law, arguing that it violated the “domicile rule” provision of the Tennessee Constitution because it was narrowly tailored to their jurisdictions without their consent.

The state disagreed and instead argued that education policy was the responsibility of the state. As a result, they argued that local constitutional protections did not apply in this case.

In last month’s 3-2 decision, the state’s highest court agreed with the Lee administration.

Governor Bill Lee pictured during a press conference at the Tennessee State Capitol in Nashville, Tennessee on August 16, 2021. The College Savings Account Act of 2019 was the centerpiece of Lee's 2019 legislative agenda.

The recent court ruling sent the case back to the trial court to determine whether the program violates the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause and the rights of public school students to adequate and equitable educational opportunities.

He also lifted an injunction preventing the state from moving forward with the program, Samantha Fisher, spokeswoman for Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery, told The Associated Press last month.

The Tennessee Department of Education has yet to receive the green light from the attorney general’s office, Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn told The Tennessean last week.

Related:Governor Lee’s school voucher plan has passed a key constitutional test. What we know and don’t know about the sequel

The department is legally required to implement the program, but neither department in the governor’s office has yet hinted at a timeline for doing so.

“A lot of parents are waiting for this information and I can imagine it’s frustrating for everyone involved,” Schwinn said. “But we certainly want to make sure we respect that. [legal] treat. We will fulfill legal responsibility when and if this injunction disappears in the future.”

Neither the governor’s office nor the Department of Education immediately responded to questions from Tennessean Monday.

This is a developing story. Check back with The Tennessean for updates.

Journalists Kirsten Fiscus and Mariah Timms contributed to this story.

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Meghan Mangrum covers education for the USA TODAY Network – Tennessee. Contact her at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.

Cassandra Stephenson covers metropolitan government for The Tennessean. Contact her at [email protected] Follow Cassandra on Twitter at @CStephenson731.

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