Just before school started on Monday, a judicial panel approved on Friday the start of a Tennessee private school choice program for this year.
Back in May, the Tennessee Supreme Court justified a 2019 law that enabled families in the Memphis and Nashville areas to use state funding to help cover private school tuition. Following that move, anti-voucher advocates and local governments filed a temporary injunction, claiming the program had too many flaws and should be postponed, if not nixed altogether.
But the judges denied the motion for an injunction.
The judges wrote, “Specifically, we are unpersuaded that the harm the Plaintiffs believe to be imminent is sufficiently irreparable or certain so as to justify blocking the implementation” of Tennessee’s law.
Now that the program’s been given the go-ahead, up to 5,000 families could receive $8,000 each in taxpayer funds to use for private school tuition. So far, about 2,000 families have applied according to state education officials.
Yet, it’s unclear how many families will qualify for the program, nor are the details very straightforward, which was a reason for dissension during Friday’s hearing.
“Nothing requires the state defendants to push this forward at a rocket’s pace after the injunction was lifted, just before the school year started,” said Allison Bussell, the lawyer representing the two local governments.
Furthermore, opponents of the law also believe “irreparable” harm will be caused to public schools as a result of the school choice program.
“Both Nashville and Shelby County have robust public school choice options already,” said Chris Wood, who argued for the plaintiffs. “If folks are unhappy with their schools, they can opt to go to many different other public schools.”
“Taking millions of dollars away from public schools and sending it to private schools will never help those public schools,” added Bussell.
However, a lawyer for the state, Stephanie Bergmeyer, said the districts will get school improvement grants for the first three years of the program to help with any financial losses. Additionally, Bergmeyer and another state lawyer, Jim Newsom, said that state law is being followed to get the program started.
School choice representatives and advocates have deemed the judges’ ruling a victory.
“School choice should not wait a day longer in Tennessee; and after today’s ruling, it won’t,” said Arif Panju from the Institute for Justice.
“I am thrilled at the opportunity for my children to attend private schools that meet their needs,” shared parent Star Brumfield. “It’s been a long journey.”
The plaintiffs are set to be in court again on September 19 to argue that the program violates the state’s “equal protection” clause. But, the judges indicated in Friday’s ruling that they don’t believe the plaintiffs will succeed in any further challenges against Tennessee’s law.
What do you think about Tennessee’s school voucher program?
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