Institute for Justice · September 29, 2020

Arlington, Va.This afternoon, The Court of Appeals of Tennessee at Nashville ruled that the Tennessee Education Savings Account Pilot Program Act, enacted in 2019 to give thousands of Tennessee families greater school choice, is unconstitutional under the Home Rule Amendment of the Tennessee Constitution. Natu Bah and Builguissa Diallo, two Tennessee parents who planned to use the ESA, partnered with the Institute for Justice (IJ) to defend the program from a constitutional challenge levied against it in February. They have vowed to appeal this ruling to the Tennessee Supreme Court.

“Today’s ruling treats Tennessee children as mere conduits for channeling money into school district budgets,” said IJ managing attorney Arif Panju, “and it ignores that the Tennessee Constitution requires government to serve the people, not extinguish their educational options. We will immediately appeal to the Tennessee Supreme Court.”

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.

The February lawsuit was brought by the governments of Nashville and Shelby County, along with the Metropolitan Nashville Board of Public Education.