On the surface, it would seem Gov. Bill Lee and his commitment to a statewide voucher scheme for Tennessee scored a huge victory yesterday when the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled in a 3-2 decision that Lee’s ESA voucher plan does NOT violate the “Home Rule” Amendment of the Tennessee Constitution.
Here’s the deal: While the loss on the Home Rule Amendment is a definite blow to public school advocates, there are MORE issues at play here.
Here’s what a press release from the Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts has to say about yesterday’s ruling:
The Tennessee Supreme Court granted Defendants’ applications for permission to appeal. Because it is an interlocutory appeal, the issues before the Court were limited to the constitutionality of the ESA Act under the Home Rule Amendment and Plaintiffs’ standing to bring that challenge. The Supreme Court agreed with both the trial court and the Court of Appeals that Plaintiffs Metro and Shelby County had standing to bring their Home Rule Amendment Claim. However, the Supreme Court, after reviewing the applicable constitutional language, held that the ESA Act is not rendered unconstitutional by the Home Rule Amendment because the Act is not “applicable to” the Plaintiff counties for purposes of the Amendment. 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. Thus, the Act does not violate the Home Rule Amendment. The Supreme Court therefore affirmed, in part, and reversed, in part, the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remanded the case to the trial court for the dismissal of the Home Rule Amendment claim and for consideration of Plaintiffs’ remaining claims.
“Consideration of remaining claims.”
So, the plaintiffs lost on the Home Rule Amendment in a narrow, 3-2 ruling. While I may not agree with that interpretation of Home Rule, as it relates to vouchers, this is not a “death blow” per se.
There are “other issues.” The plaintiffs will now have to revisit their case as it relates to other claims relative to the harms or potential harms of vouchers.
This ruling does NOT mean that Bill Lee and Penny Schwinn can just go all out on vouchers.
Instead, it means that lower courts will hear evidence on claims related to vouchers.
Was the Home Rule Amendment the home run in terms of defeating vouchers? Yes! Seeing vouchers as unconstitutional in this light was the easiest, fastest way to defeat a voucher scheme.
Was it the ONLY way that vouchers would lose in court? Not at all.
Remember, the ESA scheme as concocted in 2019, applies only to Memphis and Nashville. There are a range of legitimate claims that could serve to halt the negative impact of a voucher scheme.
A trial court may now have to hear evidence and make a decision on those claims.
Bottom line: This is NOT a green light for Lee’s voucher plan.
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