Institute for Justice · February 6, 2020

Arlington, Va.—Today, the Institute for Justice (IJ)  announced they will intervene to defend the nation’s newest educational choice program from a legal attack announced this morning by Nashville Mayor John Cooper.

The mayor announced a lawsuit brought by the Metro Government of Nashville and Davidson County, Shelby County and Metro Nashville Board of Public Education, that claims Tennessee’s Education Savings Accounts (“ESA program”) for parents of K-12 students violates the Tennessee Constitution.

“Tennessee’s ESA program is constitutional and IJ stands ready to defend it in court so that Tennessee families can send their children to the school that best fits their child’s needs,” said Arif Panju, an IJ managing attorney. “The mayor’s lawsuit to block ESA accounts for K-12 students reveals his disregard for the rights of parents and children.” IJ will represent parents who plan to use ESAs to send their children to a school that best fits their child’s needs.

The ESA Program was passed in 2019 by the Tennessee Legislature. The program offers a lifeline to families that would like to leave public schools that do not meet their children’s needs, but who lacked the financial resources to do so until now. Under the ESA program, qualifying students will receive a scholarship up to $7,300 for a wide array of educational expenses, including tuition, textbooks, and tutoring services. The program is available to qualifying lower- and middle-income families like a family of four whose annual income is less than $66,950.

Defending Tennessee’s ESA program will achieve something vitally important to parents and children across the state: It will allow parents to leave public schools that fail to meet their child’s needs. Rather than empowering families with kids trapped in schools that don’t work for them, the mayor’s announcement that he wants a court to invalidate the ESA program empowers teachers’ unions and their allies, not parents and kids.

“Educational choice programs that aid parents from communities in need are constitutional,” said IJ Attorney David Hodges. “Tennessee’s ESA program was designed to provide parents an educational option that empowers them to obtain the best education for their children.”

Since its founding over a quarter-century ago, IJ has successfully defended school choice programs across the country, including three times in the U.S. Supreme Court. This January, the U.S. Supreme Court heard Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, an IJ case that asks the Court to strike down a government ban on using tax credit-funded scholarships to attend religious schools.