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

A Davidson County judge ruled late Monday that Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee’s education savings account program is unconstitutional, a blow to one of the governor’s top legislative victories in his first year in office.

Nashville Chancellor Anne C. Martin said the school voucher program violated a section of the state constitution known as “home rule,” because the law only applied to Davidson and Shelby counties.

 (Editor’s Note: Anne C. Martin is judge of Part II of the Chancery Court of Davidson County, Tennessee and this is, simply put, an opinion; something we all have. This is not an act of belittling her opinion or her work as a member of the court, but this does elevate her opinion to law; that comes from the legislature.) 

As a result, the state improperly imposed the program on the two counties without their consent, Martin said.

Two lawsuits filed over the program each asked the judge to temporarily stop the program before it is implemented in Nashville and Memphis.

The law would allow eligible families in Davidson and Shelby counties to use public money to fund private school tuition, among other educational needs. It is Lee’s signature education initiative, passed last year.

“We strongly disagree with the court’s ruling and will swiftly appeal on behalf of Tennessee students who deserve more than a one-size-fits-all approach to education,” Lee spokesman Gillum Ferguson said in a statement Monday night.

 Editor’s Note: Both the Commercial Appeal (Gannet News Service) as well as the union protector group Tennessee Strong appear thrilled over this decision  

Nashville, Memphis leaders call ruling win for public education

Plaintiffs say the law itself — its narrow focus on two counties, the way the funds are allocated and assessed and the inability of the counties to approve the plan — are all unconstitutional under state law.

One suit was filed by a collection of public school parents and community members from Nashville and Memphis and the other by Davidson and Shelby Counties and the Metro Nashville Board of Public Education.

“I am grateful to Chancellor Martin for safeguarding the resources in Metro Nashville Public Schools and Shelby County Schools, and the rights of all public school children in these districts,” plaintiff Roxanne McEwen, a public school parent in Nashville, said in a statement. “Our public schools serve every child who walks through their doors. Especially in this time of crisis, our schools could not afford to have more resources drained away from them.”

People from Tennessee Strong protest Gov. Lee's voucher proposal at Speaker Beth Harwell Plaza in Nashville, Tenn, on Tuesday, April 9, 2019.

People from Tennessee Strong protest Gov. Lee’s voucher proposal at Speaker Beth Harwell Plaza in Nashville, Tenn, on Tuesday, April 9, 2019. (Photo: Shelley Mays /The Tennessean)

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