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Tennessee Supreme Court won't intervene in school voucher lawsuit

June 15, 2020
The court's decision means a new voucher program in Nashville and Memphis won't be able to begin in 2020-21.

The Tennessee Supreme Court has decided not to intervene in the legal battle over school vouchers in the state. The decision effectively blocks an education savings account program from beginning in the 2020-21 school year.

The Memphis Commercial Appeal reports that the court did not elaborate on why it will not step in to decide whether the state can use taxpayer funding to send some students to private schools.

However, its two-page order said the court had “carefully considered” motions in the case.

“Based upon the current totality of the circumstances, including the relevant timeline and the procedural posture of this case, the Court concludes that this case does not warrant the extraordinary action of the exercise of the Court’s authority to assume jurisdiction,” the order said.

The program’s fate now lies with a three-judge state Court of Appeals panel. Arguments are set for Aug. 5 — too late for the Tennessee Department of Education to start the program in August as directed by Gov. Bill Lee.

Davidson County Chancellor Ann Martin overturned the law last month because it applies only to Memphis and Nashville without giving their local governments or voters a say.

Despite the judicial setbacks, Lee has refused to back off from beginning the program in August. He set aside $41 million in the state budget to pay for it amid an economic crisis. But the high court’s decision now puts that timeline out of reach because significant administrative work must happen before a launch, even if the appeals court sides with the state later this summer.

The case started in February when local governments in Nashville and Shelby County sued to try to stop the voucher program from siphoning off students and funding from Metro Nashville Public Schools and Shelby County Schools in Memphis.

They argued that shifting taxpayer money to private schools for a small number of voucher recipients will end up hurting those who remain in public schools.

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