Gov. Lee not backing away from funding school voucher program

Tennessee

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Gov. Bill Lee is not backing away from his Education Savings Account school voucher plan for Memphis and Nashville after another court decision cast more uncertainty on the program while halting the application process.

“We certainly respect the judge’s decision, though we disagree with it but we have stopped,” said the governor during a quick visit Friday morning to a Second Harvest Food Bank in Nashville.

Nashville Chancellery Court Judge Anne Martin ruled earlier in the week that the voucher plan was unconstitutional because it violated the “home rule” of the school districts where the program will be implemented.

The governor’s office quickly indicated it would appeal to higher courts.

The program would allow more than $7,000 dollars yearly for up to 5,000 students in lower-performing Memphis and Nashville public schools to use for tuition at private schools.

In another hearing late Thursday by video conference, Chancellor Martin ordered the Tennessee Department of Education to provide current information on its ESA website about the present legal status of the voucher program.

During the food bank visit, Lee was asked if he would continue to push for the $40 million dollars in funding for the stalled ESA voucher program which was scheduled for the 2020-21 school year.

“We certainly hope that investment in education, like the Education Savings Account, will continue,”  said the governor.

Its expected to be a major part of budget discussions when lawmakers come back later this month after recessing in mid-March because of COVID-19.

Legislative leaders have predicted up to a $700 million dollar shortfall in the current budget that will have to be patched and more than one-billion dollars in the budget for 2021-22.

Minority Democrat leaders on Friday urged the Republican governor to abandon efforts to include the funding in the budget talks.

A release from House Democrat leaders said: “it’s fiscally irresponsible to set aside millions for an unconstitutional program and continue with a losing lawsuit amid a severe economic crisis.”

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