NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) – In another chapter of the college savings program debate, the county governments of Metro Nashville and Shelby filed an injunction petition in Davidson County Chancery Court at the end of the last week to stop the program.
This time, the counties claim the college savings program is unconstitutional in its claim for the two districts that fund them. It also claims its unconstitutionality for students who are still in public schools.
“In the rush to implement the ESA program, state defendants are abandoning authorized “education savings accounts” in favor of direct payments to private schools with public funds, which the ESA law did not not allowed,” the attorneys for Metro and Shelby counties wrote. in the motion for injunction.
Only 5,000 vouchers will be available for the next school year for students in Nashville and Memphis as it stands.
Families who apply through the state’s website will submit to an enrollment lottery and additionally must enroll their student in a private school if they receive the $7,000. According to the state’s website, the voucher funds are designed for students experiencing poverty. Students must have attended a public school the previous year or be eligible for the first time to enroll.
A student who attended a Tennessee public school for the previous full year (2021-22) is eligible to apply for ESA regardless of where the student enrolls for fall 2022, according to the Tennessee Department of Education. Enrolling and attending a participating private school while the application process is underway this fall will not disqualify a student from being eligible, TDOE officials said. Students are not officially approved for the ESA program until they receive an approval letter from the department.
The attorneys behind the injunction petition wrote that Tennessee’s way of implementing the program violates ESA law.
“Even if the stated purpose of the law were not patently false, and even if the General Assembly wanted to improve student performance in LEAs with low-performing schools, the law could not pass rigorous scrutiny,” Metro and Shelby county attorneys wrote. in the motion for injunction. “The law is not limited to students in low-performing schools. It gives any student meeting the income threshold the right to use public money for private school, even students attending the best-performing schools in neighborhoods. the wealthiest in Nashville or Memphis, instead of setting up students in Davidson and Shelby County for success, the state’s rushed implementation of defendants promises chaos for students, teachers and districts. And it has the potential to create an immediate funding crisis as districts will look to their respective counties to fill them – only shifting the harm onto local government and taxpayers.”
The lawyers asked the court to grant the injunction.
HOW WE GOT HERE
Passed by the legislature in 2019, the bill established an ESA program for students to receive money directly for their education rather than a public school system to pay for private education. Tennessee Department of Education officials said they were “excited to get back to work” for families and students in July. During the injunction, the department was unable to work on ESA preparedness plans. It is not known when the program will begin.
Over a five-year period, up to 15,000 students could become eligible for these benefits
Lower courts, including the Davidson County Chancery Court and the Tennessee Court of Appeals, previously ruled they were unconstitutional. This decision was appealed in 2021.
The decision by the Tennessee Supreme Court — which ruled them legal — was welcomed by Nashville leaders, including MNPS Superintendent Adrienne Battle and Mayor John Cooper. District leaders were already concerned about the transition from the Basic Education Program to Tennessee’s Investing in Student Success Act, which will calculate how much school districts get per student.