Metro Nashville, Shelby County sue state over school voucher program

The Metropolitan Courthouse is located at 1 Public Square, Nashville. (Dylan Skye Aycock/Community Impact Newspaper)
The Metropolitan Courthouse is located at 1 Public Square, Nashville. (Dylan Skye Aycock/Community Impact Newspaper)

The Metropolitan Courthouse is located at 1 Public Square, Nashville. (Dylan Skye Aycock/Community Impact Newspaper)

Metro Nashville and the Metro Nashville Public Schools board are suing the state of Tennessee over its school voucher program, Mayor John Cooper announced at a special-called school board meeting on Feb. 6. Shelby County in the Memphis area has also joined the lawsuit.

The lawsuit, filed Feb. 6 in the Davidson County Chancery Court, argues the program allowing public funds be used for private education is "unconstitutional."

The voucher program, also known an education savings account, allows a limited number of households in Davidson and Shelby counties to spend up to $7,300 in state funds annually on private school tuition and other state-approved education expenses. Gov. Bill Lee signed the the program into law in May.

In the lawsuit, Metro Nashville, Shelby County and the MNPS board argue that the program is in violation of the state law's "home rule" provision because it is limited to only Davidson and Shelby counties. Cooper said it is the responsibility of his administration to protect local resources for public schools.

"I have the concern of any legislation that targets one or two counties," Cooper said at the meeting. "Laws should be good enough to apply equally to everybody."

At the meeting, Interim Director of Schools Adrienne Battle said the voucher bill, also known as House Bill 939, was passed under "very questionable circumstances," adding that the program is taking away money that would otherwise help fund public schools."

"Taking money and students out of public schools is a terrible thing to do to the community, Battle said at the meeting. “We need investment in public education, not disinvestment.”

The publicly funded program is expected to cost $125 million during the five years. It will be limited to 5,000 students during the 2021-22 academic year and capped at 15,000 students during the fifth year and beyond, according to the bill.

Lee and Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn are named as defendants on the lawsuit. Read the full lawsuit document here.


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