Saturday, June 5, 2021

Tennessee Supreme Court hears arguments in Education Savings Account case. Metro's lawyer admits the program would not cost the local school system.

by Rod Williams- The State Supreme Court heard oral arguments yesterday in the challenge by Memphis and Nashville to the Education Saving Account pilot program passed last year.  This program would allow a low-income student in a failing school to get a voucher that could be used to educate the child in a private school. Apparently, the hearing went well.  Hopefully, the court will rule this program is constitutional.

The program is a pilot program and would allow up 5000 eligible students up to $7,300 in tuition vouchers to be used at participating private schools.  I am in total support of this pilot program.  Students should not be trapped in failing schools. I am disappointed but not surprised that our local school board is opposed to it. They want to maintain a monopoly on public education and oppose charter schools at every turn so I am not surprised they would oppose a program that allows a low-income student to escape a failing school and attend a private school.  They seem more concerned with maintaining monopolistic control than with what is best for the child.  

One thing should be clearly understood; this program does not cost local school boards money.  They are relieved of the responsibility for educating the child yet they continue to count that child as "enrolled" for the purpose of getting State education funding under the BEP.  The Basic Education Program (BEP) is the funding formula through which state education dollars are generated and distributed to Tennessee schools.

Not only does the program not cost the local schools money, for the first three years of the program local school boards make money off of the program.  The local school board is relieved of the responsibility of educating the child, yet the state continues to pay the local school systems as if the local school board was doing so.  After the first three years, the local school board would no longer make money off of the program but it wouldn't cost them either.  

In court, Bob Cooper, Metro Director of Law, admitted the program would not cost Metro money.  “The school district will basically break even on this,” said Cooper.  “The burden is on the county is that these ESA students have to continue to be counted as enrolled in the county school district for the purpose of funding calculations.”  That is not a "burden."  They simply count the student as a Metro student for the purpose of funding.  

“Metro Davidson County has been arguing for months that this education savings account program will harm them by costing them more money, but today they admitted that the county would break even,” said Brian Kelsey, senior attorney for Liberty Justice Center. “There is no harm to the county taxpayers. However, there is a huge harm to these students who are being failed year after year.”

To read the law establishing this pilot program see Public Chapter 506.

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Tennessee Supreme Court hears arguments in Education Savings Account case

The Beacon Center- On Thursday, the Tennessee Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case challenging the state education savings account (ESA) program. We were pleased with the arguments in the case and are optimistic that the Supreme Court will rule that this much-needed program can move forward. 

The local governments of Shelby County and Metro Nashville have stalled this program for nearly two years by claiming that they will suffer financially if parents are allowed to send their children to schools that better meet their needs. It's terribly disappointing that these local governments continue to outright blame families seeking a lifeline from their failure to provide a quality education to these children. We are confident the Supreme Court will do what is right and look forward to their decision. 

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Education Savings Account (ESA) Program

Tennessee Department of Education - Tennessee’s Education Savings Account (ESA) program is planned to launch for the 2020-21 school year in Davidson and Shelby counties. With the ESA program, eligible students assigned to schools in Davidson County, Shelby County, or the Achievement School District can use state and local Basic Education Program (BEP) funds toward expenses, such as tuition or fees, at participating private schools. 

Public Chapter 506, which was passed by the Tennessee General Assembly and signed by Governor Bill Lee in spring 2019, established the ESA program, providing additional education choices for students. Gov. Bill Lee, in his first State of the State address before a joint session of the 111th Tennessee General Assembly on March 4, 2019, said, “Low income students deserve the same opportunity as every other kid in this state, and we will need a bold plan that will help level the playing field. We need to challenge the status quo, increase competition, and not slow down until every student in Tennessee has access to a great education. We’re not going to get big results from our struggling schools by nibbling around the edges. That is why we need education savings accounts in Tennessee this year.” 

The Rules of State Board of Education Chapter 0520-01-16 for Education Savings Accounts can be found here

Please be aware that there is a pending legal challenge to the ESA Program and the Davidson County Chancery Court has entered an order preventing the State from advancing the program. While the order remains in effect, the Department may not take any further action on completed or pending applications. In addition, the application link has been disabled as of May 7, 2020, and calls or e-mails regarding the ESA Program cannot be answered or returned. The Department is seeking reversal of the Court’s order and hopes to succeed on appeal to allow the Program to start enrollment this school year. Updated information will be provided on this site when it becomes available. In the meantime, applicants to the ESA Program should consider the possibility that they will need alternate plans for school enrollment for the 2020-2021 school year.
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To read the law establishing this pilot program see Public Chapter 506.
For the legislative brief explaining the program follow this link
For more on this story see link, link, link

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