NASHVILLE, Tenn.—Today, the Chancery Court for Davidson County dismissed all legal claims raised in two lawsuits 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 both lawsuits on behalf of Tennessee parents to defend the ESA program against legal claims advanced by Nashville Metro, Shelby County and other opponents of educational choice.
A three-judge panel of the chancery court heard oral arguments on September 19 addressing the motions to dismiss filed by the state defendants and intervenor defendants, before issuing today’s decision. The chancery court’s decision to dismiss both lawsuits challenging the ESA program comes after the Tennessee Supreme Court rejected the plaintiffs’ lead claim earlier this year, which invoked the Tennessee Constitution’s Home Rule provision. In the wake of the high court’s decision, the chancery court in August refused to grant new injunctions, paving the way for the ESA Program to go into effect this school year. The legal fight over educational choice continued. Today, all claims were dismissed.
“The ESA program fully complies with the Tennessee Constitution and today’s ruling dismissing all legal claims attacking the program is a win for Tennessee children and their families,” said IJ Managing Attorney Arif Panju, lead counsel for the parent intervenors. “Parents in Tennessee, like parents across the nation, are embracing educational choice programs because choice empowers parents.”
“I am thrilled at the opportunity for my children to attend private schools that meet their needs using the ESA program,” said IJ client Star Brumfield. “It’s been a long journey.”
Under the ESA program, qualifying students will receive a scholarship of more than $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.
“It should be up to Tennessee parents, not government bureaucrats, to decide what school is best for their child,” said IJ Attorney David Hodges. “The ESA program empowers parents to do exactly that.”
“Today is a great day for educational freedom in Tennessee,” said Justin Owen, President of the Beacon Center of Tennessee, “For three years, opponents of school choice have used the courts to stand in the way of parents’ seeking a better education for their children – those efforts are finally behind us.”