The Tennessee Supreme Court is weighing the impact of one of Governor Bill Lee’s signature education initiatives — school vouchers. The court heard arguments Thursday in a case challenging the program.
The plan to create a pilot voucher program has drawn controversy from the beginning, because it would use taxpayer money to help families pay for a private school education. The program, otherwise known as the Education Savings Account Act, is being challenged by Shelby County Schools and Metro Nashville Public Schools specifically because the law requires them to be the first to offer school vouchers.
Nashville law director Bob Cooper represented the two counties at the Supreme Court hearing. He argued that the voucher plan was unfair because it poses a financial strain to each school district without local approval. According to Cooper, under the voucher program, local governments would be required to continue funding students who transfer out of public schools.
“It is a burden on the counties. It is requiring them to spend more money — more BEP money — than they would be required to otherwise,” he said.
The state’s solicitor general, Andrée Blumstein disagreed, asserting that the potential financial harm was, “all based on speculation and hypotheticals.” She added, “Nothing can be definitive until the program has been implemented.”
Blumstein and her team also argued that the voucher program wouldn’t impose an immediate burden because the state would cushion the initial cost of the pilot program.
But Justice Sharon Lee raised concerns about the sustainability of the program once state support dissipates.
“There’s no provision for grant reimbursement at that point, which means that the county government — the county commission — will have to budget additional funds to make up for that loss in grant funding,” she said. “How does that not affect the county, the county tax payers and the county budgetary process?”