Tennessee can begin rolling out private school voucher program, court rules, ending 2-year block

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee announced Wednesday that he and his team will work to help eligible parents enroll their children in the schools of their choice for the upcoming school year.

Editor’s note: This article appeared Wednesday on tnchalkbeat.org.

Tennessee can resume work on its mothballed private school voucher program after a judicial panel lifted a 2-year-old order blocking it.

On Wednesday, a three-judge panel cleared the way for Gov. Bill Lee’s education savings account program to proceed in Memphis and Nashville based on the recent Tennessee Supreme Court ruling upholding the 2019 voucher law.

Now the question is how quickly the state can roll out vouchers to provide eligible families with taxpayer money to attend private schools or to pay for private education services.

In a statement, the governor said his administration will work “starting today” toward enrolling eligible students for the upcoming school year.

And at a court hearing on Wednesday, one of the state’s lawyers suggested Tennessee would pursue a launch soon, even as school starts next month, and the law still faces other legal challenges.

A spokesman for the state education department declined to give a timetable but said the state “is excited to restart work to plan for implementation of the ESA program.”

The voucher program, which originally was to start in the fall of 2020, was the signature legislation of Lee’s first year in office after he had campaigned to give parents more choices for their children’s education. But it has been mired in legal battles for almost three years and has yet to provide a single student with voucher funds.

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BY Special to NextSteps