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Tennessee

Constitutional Provisions

Compelled Support Clause

“[T]hat no man can of right be compelled to attend, erect, or support any place of worship, or to maintain any minister against his consent .…” Tennessee Const. Art. I, § 3.

Education Article

“The State of Tennessee recognizes the inherent value of education and encourages its support. The General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance, support and eligibility standards of a system of free public schools. The General Assembly may establish and support such postsecondary educational institutions, including public institutions of higher learning, as it determines.” Tennessee Const. Art. XI, § 12.

Vouchers: Yes

Tax Credits: Yes


Existing Private School Choice Programs

Individualized Education Account Program

Tennessee Code Annotated Sections 49-10-14012 to -14067

Relevant Case Law

Americans United for Separation of Church & State v. Blanton, 433 F. Supp. 97 (M.D. Tenn. 1977), aff’d, 434 U.S. 803 (1977)

A federal district court held that Tennessee’s Student Assistance Program does not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment because money is paid directly to the student rather than the institution and without reference to the public or private nature of the school.

Americans United for Separation of Church & State v. Dunn, 384 F. Supp. 714 (M.D. Tenn. 1974), vacated, Blanton v. Americans United for Separation of Church & State, 421 U.S. 958 (1975)

A federal district court held that Tennessee’s Tuition Grant Program violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment because money is paid directly to the school a student chooses to attend with no limits on the manner in which that money can be used. While the case was on appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, the Tennessee Legislature amended the program, leading the Supreme Court to vacate the decision and remand it to the lower court. The Legislature then repealed the whole statute and replaced it with the Tennessee Student Assistance Program, which was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1977 in Americans United for Separation of Church & State v. Blanton.

Carden v. Bland, 288 S.W.2d 718 (Tenn. 1956)

The Tennessee Supreme Court held that reading Bible passages and reciting the Lord’s Prayer did not amount to the establishment of a state religion.

Tenn. Att’y Gen. Op. No. 13-27 (Mar. 26, 2013)

A school voucher program would be constitutional.

Tenn. Att’y Gen. Op. No. 79-26 (Jan. 19, 1979)

Article 11, Section 12 does not prohibit the state giving money to private educational institutions.

Analysis and Recommendations

Both tax credit and voucher programs are school choice options for Tennessee, although tax credit programs would (due to the absence of a state income tax on individuals) have to rely on corporate income and other taxes. Its constitution contains no Blaine Amendment and its Compelled Support Clause has received little judicial attention. In Carden v. Bland, the Tennessee Supreme Court noted that Tennessee’s Compelled Support Clause and the First Amendment were practically synonymous.

Model Legislation: Education Savings Account, Parental Choice Scholarship Program (Universal Eligibility), Parental Choice Scholarship Program (Means-Tested Eligibility), Special Needs Scholarship Program, Foster Child Scholarship Program, Autism Scholarship, Great Schools Tax Credit Program, Family Education Tax Credit Program

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