School choice is gaining traction across the nation. In growing fashion, more and more parents want public school funds to be funneled directly through the child, not the school system. School vouchers are becoming a popular way to make this happen in many states. They place the funds right into the hands of parents if they wish to send their children to an alternate option of schooling. After a long battle in Tennessee, school voucher programs are allowed to go through, making The Volunteer State another one to approve the popular method.
After a battle that has lasted a few years, the high court voted in favor of the Tennessee school voucher program, according to Chalkbeat. The decision overruled two lower courts that had decided in 2020 that the voucher law violated the state constitution’s “home rule.” Under this, the lower court said that it infringed laws because it would only apply to the state’s two largest cities, Memphis and Nashville, leaving all other districts out of the pot.
On Wednesday, May 18th, the high court overruled the two lowers courts’ decisions, saying the Tennessee school voucher program was constitutional, agreeing with its purpose. In a statement declaring that it does not violate the ruling, they said, “The majority concluded that the ESA Act is not applicable to the Plaintiff counties because the Act regulates or governs the conduct of the local education agencies and not the counties, Ultimately, it’s a big win for Republican Governor Bill Lee, who championed the program during his first year in office in 2019.
After nearly a decade of similar initiatives being turned down, Lee’s Tennessee school voucher program barely passed legislation that year, regardless of the state GOP-led legislator. At the time of its passing, a deadlocked vote of 49-49 looked to seal its fate. However, at-the-time speaker, Glen Casada, held the vote up for quite some time, and was able to persuade Rep. Jason Zachary to flip his vote, bringing it to law. Interestingly, Casada was soon after forced out of his position in the House, after leaked text messages hinted at corruption and possibly coercion to other lawmakers to sway votes with incentives.
Despite the scandal, the Tennessee school voucher program remained approved. And now, after two tumultuous years of battle, it can finally move forward. At this time, it is still unknown if the new program will go into effect next school year, or if it will need some more time. Here is what we do know.
The controversial Tennessee school voucher program will not apply to students in the entire state. Instead, only parents in Memphis and Nashville will be eligible to sign up for the program. The law will designate $7,300 of taxpayer’s dollars to eligible students who wish to move from a public school to either a charter or private one. In its first year, the program will enroll up to 5,000 students and is hopeful to reach 15,000 students by its fifth year. During this fiscal year, Governor Lee had already set aside $29 million to fund the program, in hopes the court would rule in his favor.
Opposers vowed to keep fighting the Tennessee school voucher program initiative, despite the high court’s decision. But those in favor of school choice hailed the court’s ruling. Celebrating this, Lee trumpeted the program saying, “Every child deserves a high-quality education, and today’s Tennessee Supreme Court opinion on ESAs puts parents in Memphis and Nashville one step closer to finding the best educational fit for their children,” But for those still wary on these savings plans, only the future will tell if they truly hinder public school funding as much as they expect it to.