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TN Parents Sue State Over School Voucher Law

Nearly 1 million children in Tennessee attend public schools. (Adobe Stock)
Nearly 1 million children in Tennessee attend public schools. (Adobe Stock)
March 11, 2020

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A group of parents is suing the state over a school voucher law that would allow public school funds to be used to help Tennessee families send their kids to private schools.

Chris Wood, an attorney with the firm Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd LLP who is representing the 11 plaintiffs in the case, said diverting millions of dollars intended for Memphis and Nashville public schools to private schools violates the rights of public-school students.

"Diverting money from the BEP (Basic Education Program), which are funds that were supposed to go to public schools, in order to pay for a separate system of private schools, we believe violates the education and the equal protection provisions of the Tennessee Constitution," he said.

The Tennessee Education Savings Account voucher program passed by a single vote last spring. The lawsuit asks that it be stopped before going into effect as early as this fall. The lawsuit also charges that the voucher law violates the Tennessee Constitution's Home Rule provision. Woods said "Home Rule" prohibits the state from passing laws that apply only to certain counties.

"The legislators in Nashville and Shelby County wanted nothing to do with this legislation, and the only people that voted for it only voted for it after they were guaranteed it wouldn't apply in their district," he said. "So we think that that's a clear violation of the Home Rule provision."

He said the voucher program would siphon off around $7,500 per student -- that's $375 million over five years -- from funds previously appropriated by the General Assembly to maintain and support public schools.

The lawsuit is online at aclu-tn.org.

Nadia Ramlagan, Public News Service - TN