A conservative think tank is seeking to intervene in a lawsuit that aims to stop Tennessee’s Education Savings Account program before it begins.
The Beacon Center of Tennessee filed a motion to intervene in the lawsuit filed last week by Nashville, Metro Nashville Public Schools and Shelby County.
The lawsuit alleges the program is unconstitutional because it violates the “home rule” in the state’s constitution. That rule says any law that affects isolated counties also requires local approval.
The Beacon Center, in a news release, said it wants to protect the program on behalf of Nashville mothers Bria Davis and Star Brumfield, whose children would benefit from the program slated to begin next school year.
“It is unfathomable that Mayor Cooper would spend precious taxpayer resources to prevent Nashville’s children from obtaining a better education, all at a time when our city has no money to spend,” Beacon Center of Tennessee President and CEO Justin Owen said in a statement.
“Instead of siding with low-income families who just want to give their children a quality education, the city of Nashville has decided to stand with special interest groups that care more about what’s best for adults than what’s best for kids,” Owen said.
Owen said the organization will do everything in its power to ensure the program rolls out in the fall, adding the families they are representing would be the most impacted by the program.
The lawsuit says the savings accounts put an illegal burden on only two counties. It also contends the program violates the state’s equal protection clause and the legislature’s mandate to support a system of free public schools.
“Ensuring a bright future for Nashville requires more, not less, investment in our public schools,” Nashville Mayor John Cooper said in a statement announcing the lawsuit. “It is both my job and the responsibility of this administration not only to protect Metro’s limited resources for public school funding but to seek more public education investment from the state.”
Education savings accounts, a voucher-style program, use taxpayer funds deposited for families who withdraw their children from public school. The families can use the money to send their children to private schools. The program is limited to Memphis and Nashville.
The program has sparked other controversies.
On Wednesday, lawmakers grilled Tennessee Department of Education officials over the procurement of and use of funds for a two-year, $2.5 million contract with ClassWallet. The company, hired by the state without accepting other bids, will administer applications and funds being used for the ESA program.
Gov. Bill Lee on Thursday told reporters that he is unfazed by recent controversies surrounding the rollout of the program, specifically over how the education department procured ClassWallet to administer it.
But even before this year’s rollout, the program passed in the House by one vote and only after former House Speaker Glen Casada, R-Franklin, held open a tied vote for over 40 minutes to find a member to change positions. Reports have circulated about a possible federal investigation into whether improper incentives were offered as part of the House vote.
And a bill has also been introduced to repeal the program.
Reach Jason Gonzales at email@example.com and on Twitter @ByJasonGonzales.
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