Gov. Bill Lee’s Education Savings Account program has, once again, been ruled unconstitutional.
The Tennessee Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s ruling on the controversial plan to offer vouchers to students for private school tuition.
The decision from a Nashville judge in May was based on a reading of the state constitution’s Home Rule Amendment. Chancellor Anne Martin said the voucher program singles out Davidson and Shelby counties, which brought the suit.
Three appeals court judges echoed that reasoning in an opinion released Tuesday afternoon, arguing that the ESA Act violates the Tennessee Constitution because it wasn’t passed through a local referendum or county commission vote.
“This is an important victory for local government in Tennessee,” Metro legal director Bob Cooper said in a statement. “It reaffirms that the State cannot impose burdens on a select few counties or cities without their permission.”
The appeals court ruling is another win for Metro Nashville Public Schools, which has been pushing against the law since it was being debated in the General Assembly.
Opponents worry the plan would incentivize parents to send their kids to private schools, rather than support public education. Backers of the program, on the other hand, call it “a lifeline” for parents who don’t want to send their kids to underperforming schools.
“These families are hurt every day that the status quo remains in place,” Beacon Center chief executive Justin Owen said in a statement. The libertarian group has worked with parents who want private school vouchers to advocate for the program.
“We hope the Supreme Court will give them the educational options they so desperately need and deserve.”
Gov. Bill Lee has continued to voice his support for the program. His office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
WPLN News’ Sergio Martínez-Beltrán contributed to this report.