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Tennessee Supreme Court Declines To Hear School Voucher Case, In A Blow To The Program

Tony Gonzalez / WPLN News


The Tennessee Supreme Court decided Thursday morning that it will not take up the case of whether the state’s Education Savings Account program is legal. It also declined to reverse an order that bars the state from implementing the program.

This means the fight over school vouchers will proceed in August in the Tennessee Court of Appeals. In the meantime, the state will be unable to process voucher applications or make any awards until appeals courts have ruled.

More: Read the Tennessee Supreme Court order.

It serves as a major setback to Gov. Bill Lee’s administration, which has made this program a priority since his first months in office. After lawmakers approved the Education Savings Account proposal last year — allowing certain families in Davidson and Shelby Counties to offset the cost of private school with state funds — the Department of Education rushed to implement it so that it would be in place by the fall semester 2020.

“While we respect the court’s decision, we are disappointed for the more than 2,000 students who applied for this program in the hope of receiving a better educational fit,” Gillum Ferguson, Lee’s spokesman, said in a text message. “We’ll continue to fight to give our families greater options and are committed to seeing this through in Tennessee.

The education department declined to comment, citing pending litigation. The Tennessee attorney general’s office also declined to comment.

The Beacon Center of Tennessee, a libertarian group who has served as intervenor in the case representing parents who wanted to participate in the program, said on Thursday they were disappointed about the decision.

“It is gut-wrenching to think that every year we wait to provide these families with quality education options is another year their children fall further through the cracks,” the group said on a statement. “We remain unyielding in our defense of these families and will continue to fight for them in the courts until the ESA program is ultimately allowed to be implemented just as the governor and legislature intended.”

This story was reported by WPLN

Sergio Martínez-Beltrán is Nashville Public Radio’s political reporter. Prior to moving to Nashville, Sergio covered education for the Standard-Examiner newspaper in Ogden, Utah. He is a Puerto Rico native and his work has also appeared on NPR station WKAR, San Antonio Express-News, Inter News Service, GFR Media and WMIZ 1270 AM.