Tennessee Supreme Court Finds Gov. Lee's Education Savings Account Pilot Program Constitutional

On Wednesday, the Tennessee Supreme Court decided that Gov. Bill Lee’s Education Savings Account program is constitutional after it was held up in court for two years.

The Education Savings Account Pilot Program, also called the ESA Act, was controversial legislation from Gov. Lee that barely passed in 2019. The law would allow for certain students in Davidson and Shelby counties to receive public education funds to attend private schools. Both counties sued the state on the grounds that it violates the Tennessee Constitution by targeting Nashville and Memphis.

Initially, the legislation was deemed unconstitutional by the Davidson County Chancery Court on the grounds that it violates the home rule provision of the Tennessee Constitution. The Tennessee Court of Appeals upheld the Chancery Court’s decision. The state appealed to the Tennessee Supreme Court, which ultimately voted 3-2 in favor of upholding the legislation.

“The majority concluded that the ESA Act is not applicable to the Plaintiff counties because the Act regulates or governs the conduct of the local education agencies and not the counties,” reads the opinion. “Thus, the Act does not violate the Home Rule Amendment.”

As noted by The Tennessee Journal, the decision comes shortly after Lee and the Tennessee General Assembly scrapped the Basic Education Program funding formula on which the ESA program is based, leaving in question implementation of the voucher-like program.