Dan King
Dan King · September 19, 2022

NASHVILLE, Tenn.—Today, the Chancery Court for Davidson County heard arguments seeking dismissal of two lawsuits filed in 2020 challenging the Tennessee Education Savings Account Pilot Program (“ESA Program”), which gives thousands of low- and middle- income Tennessee families trapped in failing public schools the ability to afford educational options that meet their children’s needs. The Institute for Justice (IJ), the nation’s leading advocate for educational choice, joined by the Beacon Center of Tennessee, intervened in the lawsuits on behalf of Tennessee parents to defend the ESA program’s constitutionality against legal claims raised by Nashville Metro, Shelby County and other opponents of educational choice. 

A three-judge panel will decide the case in the chancery court. Last month, the court rejected the plaintiffs’ request for a temporary injunction. That ruling paved the way for the ESA Program to go into effect this school year. But the legal fight over educational choice in Tennessee continues, and the court will now decide whether to dismiss the two legal challenges. 

“The ESA program fully complies with the Tennessee Constitution, and we look forward to the court’s ruling,” said IJ Managing Attorney Arif Panju. “Parents in Tennessee, like parents across the nation, are embracing educational choice programs that empower them to direct their child’s education.” 

The legal claims raised in the lawsuits invoke the equal protection and education clauses of the Tennessee Constitution, among other claims. Last month, the court ruled that the plaintiffs were unlikely to prevail on those legal claims. At today’s argument, IJ asked for dismissal of all legal claims. 

“It should be up to Tennessee parents, not government bureaucrats, to decide what school is best for their child,” said IJ Attorney Keith Neely. “Children should not remain trapped in failing schools because of their ZIP code or their parents’ income.” 

Under the ESA program, qualifying students will receive a scholarship of over $7,000 for a wide array of educational expenses, including tuition, textbooks and tutoring services. The program is available to qualifying low- and middle-income families like a family of four whose annual income is less than $66,950. Tennessee’s ESA program has received interest from thousands of families, reflecting the national trend of parents and children in other states that have embraced school choice programs. 

In May, the Tennessee Supreme Court rejected the lead claim raised in the lawsuits and held that the ESA program does not violate the Tennessee Constitution’s Home Rule Amendment, reversing the lower courts that had halted the ESA Program on that basis two years earlier.