Lee's school voucher program gets TN Supreme Court win
The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that Gov. Bill Lee's school voucher program was in line with the state constitution.
- The 3-2 decision overturns rulings from lower courts that blocked the program.
Why it matters: Lee's program would create education savings accounts, commonly called vouchers, that would allow eligible students to use public funding to attend private school.
Flashback: A bill authorizing vouchers in Tennessee's biggest cities narrowly passed the General Assembly in 2019, but the measure was mired in court challenges and controversy.
- The high court's ruling is a significant victory as Lee nears the end of his first term.
Between the lines: The Supreme Court reheard the case after Justice Cornelia Clark died last year.
- Court of Appeals Judge Thomas "Skip" Frierson, II, stepped in temporarily for the case. He joined Chief Justice Roger Page and Justice Jeff Bivins in the majority.
- Justices Sharon Lee and Holly Kirby dissented.
The intrigue: The program was originally designed for students in a handful of counties, but lawmakers winnowed it down so that it applies only to the Nashville and Shelby County districts.
- Those local governments sued, saying the state couldn't create such a program that applied only to them.
- While some state courts agreed, the Supreme Court found the program's narrow design did not violate the state constitution.
What he's saying: Lee said the opinion "puts parents in Memphis and Nashville one step closer to finding the best educational fit for their children."
The other side: State Sen. Jeff Yarbro (D-Nashville) said the Home Rule Amendment to the constitution should bar the program.
- "While the decision itself is bad, the worst result of the Tennessee Supreme Court's school vouchers decision will be the school vouchers," Yarbro tweeted.
- "In state after state after state, vouchers lead to worse education outcomes."
What's next: Wednesday's ruling was in response to a specific constitutional question that arose during a broader lawsuit over the vouchers, so the ongoing lawsuit will continue in state trial court.
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