Tennessee private school voucher law is stuck at the starting gate, despite court victory

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee has sought more education choices for parents since taking office in 2019.

Editor’s note: This article appeared Friday in Chalkbeat Tennessee.

Three years after squeaking through the legislature, Tennessee’s controversial private school voucher law has yet to provide a single eligible student with public funding to pay for private schooling — a record that will be difficult to change this fall.

Despite a favorable ruling this month by the state’s highest court, Gov. Bill Lee’s administration must clear numerous legal and logistical hurdles before launching his mothballed Education Savings Account program.

The state Supreme Court’s ruling on May 18 invalidated one of the claims brought by opponents of the law. But litigants behind one of two lawsuits in the case say they intend to press ahead with up to four remaining claims challenging the law’s constitutionality. And plaintiffs in the other suit are considering a similar move.

Equally important, a program with the complexities of vouchers cannot be rolled out in short order. The state education department must process applications from potentially thousands of families — each involving an average of 12 interactions with the applicant, according to court documents.

It must revisit its roster of dozens of private school participants and put processes in place to oversee the spending of millions of taxpayer dollars — all in alignment with the school year that, in Tennessee, generally begins in early August.

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BY Special to NextSteps