For families in Nashville and Memphis, the upcoming school year just got a whole lot more exciting. Just last week, the Tennessee Supreme Court lifted an injunction on the state’s pilot Education Savings Account program, a school choice initiative that will allow 5,000 Tennessee children to exercise their right to school choice.
The program was passed by the Tennessee state legislature and signed into law by Governor Bill Lee back in 2019. But thanks to education bureaucracy proponents, the program was never implemented. In May 2020, it was blocked by Davidson County Chancellor Anne C. Martin on the grounds that it violated a provision in the Tennessee Constitution. Since the ESA program would have only applied to Davidson and Shelby County students, Martin decided that it violated the Home Rule provision which requires local approval before passing county-specific laws.
Anti-school choice advocates like the ACLU also joined in support of squashing the initiative, calling it an “unconstitutional voucher program.”
After making its way up to the Tennessee Supreme Court, the injunction was overruled, removing the last barrier standing in the way of improved educational opportunities in the state.
Eligible students will receive funding that can be used for tuition, fees, books, uniforms, tutoring services, summer education programs, after-school services, and other approved educational expenses. According to the Tennessee State Department of Education, each ESA awards approximately $7,000 per pupil.
With just a few weeks until the 2022-2023 school year is set to begin, state education officials are working to get the program rolling so that families can reap the benefits as soon as possible. Tennessee Governor Bill Lee expressed support for swift implementation of the program, stating, “we will work to help eligible parents enroll this school year, as we ensure Tennessee families have the opportunity to choose the school that they believe is best for their child.” The Tennessee Department of Education quickly made ESA resources and information available online for parents interested in participating in this new initiative.
John Patton, State Director of the American Federation for Children-Tennessee, celebrates this win for parents and children in Tennessee. His organization “focuses its time and resources on supporting state-level efforts to provide low-income and middle class families with access to great schools through private school choice.”
“This is an important victory for families in Tennessee who desperately need and deserve additional, high-quality educational options,” according to Patton. “Bureaucrats and defenders of the status quo unnecessarily delayed a program that will deliver life-changing opportunities to children in our state.”
In a huge triumph for children and families in Tennessee, the state Supreme Court saw justice prevail. As school choice initiatives like this continue to crop up across the country, we can expect more meaningful educational experiences for the most vulnerable and underserved American children.