Tennessee school voucher program unconstitutional Appeals Court rules

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Gov. Bill Lee’s education savings account program took another hit Tuesday, with the Tennessee Court of Appeals upholding a lower court’s decision that the controversial plan is unconstitutional. 

A three-member panel of the Court of Appeals upheld a previous decision by Davidson County Chancery Court Judge Anne Martin, who ruled against the school-voucher law because it only applies to Memphis and Nashville. 

The state attorney general quickly appealed that decision, hoping to kick off the program with the 2020-21 school year, but the courts blocked the state from receiving applications and preparing for the program’s kickoff for this academic year.

PREVIOUSLY: Judge rules Gov. Bill Lee’s education savings account program unconstitutional

In its appeal, the state argued that education policy is the state’s responsibility — and that the local constitutional protections, known as “home rule,” don’t apply in this case. Martin had ruled that the law violated the home rule provision since the legislature imposed the program on just two counties without their say. 

The program would allow students in Davidson and Shelby school districts to attend private schools and pay for it, in part, by with public funds. The General Assembly passed the controversial law in 2019 over the objections of officials in Davidson and Shelby counties. The education savings account program is one of Lee’s signature education initiatives.

After a remote hearing in May, Martin ruled the state could no longer accept applications and ordered the program’s website to say that applications were closed, and since the program’s fate was undetermined, parents should seek a backup plan. Even returning a phone call or email about the program was prohibited. 

In June, the state Supreme Court declined to take up the case directly. 

RELATED: Tennessee can’t launch Education Savings Account program while appeal is pending, court says

Opponents say