Voucher law ruled unconstitutional, Lee vows quick appeal

Gov. Bill Lee speaks at a press conference on Tennessee’s coronavirus response in Nashville on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

A Nashville judge has ruled Tennessee’s school voucher law violated the Tennessee Constitution because it was written in a way to only apply to two of the state’s counties and passed without residents’ consent.

Debate over the the school voucher bill dominated the 2019 legislative session, with the Lee administration starting out with a bill applying to at least five counties. The bill was successively whittled down affect fewer and fewer counties, ending up with just Nashville and and Shelby County in order for the bill to be narrowly approved.

Chancellor Anne Martin found that based on “the legislative history detailing the extensive tweaking of the eligibility criteria in order to eliminate certain school districts to satisfy legislators (rather than tweaking to enhance the merits of the Act) that the legislation is local in form and effect.”

Gov. Bill Lee’s office is promising a prompt legal challenge.

“We strongly disagree with the court’s ruling and will swiftly appeal on behalf of Tennessee students who deserve more than a one-size-fits-all approach to education,” Lee spokesman Gillum Ferguson said in a statement.

44 Responses to Voucher law ruled unconstitutional, Lee vows quick appeal

  • James White says:

    It should apply to all counties. Let everyone have at least the ability to escape the failing government schools situation. Home schooling is working.

  • WhitesCreek says:

    Of course it is unconstitutional. When has that stopped Republicans from destroying anything if they can make money?

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  • Not that Stuart guy says:

    Finally some good news.

  • John Langston says:

    Lock the yes voters up.

    • Stuart I. Anderson says:

      It’s so refreshing when members of the left put the sanctimonious virtue signaling aside and reveals who they really are – authoritarians.

    • Cannoneer2 says:

      The Left repeatedly show themselves to be the least tolerant.

  • Phil Lassiter says:

    I still say the voucher bill was the greatest freshman blunder by a Governor in 100 years in TN. To take all your energy and put it into something that is so insignificant and so contentious with a new legislature is purely moronic. Whoever his advisors are should all be fired and he should apologize to TN for losing 100000 jobs and opening the prisons. Mark Gill should have to pay for the appeal.

    • John says:

      A casual observer might think Casada’s strange relationships with young male staffers, interns, and lobbyists caused his downfall, but we know his own Republican Caucus removed him because of his disastrous handling of the Voucher vote. Casada could still be pulling Bill Lee’s puppet strings if he hadn’t gone all in on Vouchers. Amateurs

      • Phil Lassiter says:

        Agreed. Very hard to afford cocaine now on just a regular legislator’s salary I’m guessing

      • Stuart I. Anderson says:

        OK Phil and John, I will just tell my friend Glen to forget inviting the two of you to his victory party the night of Nov. 3rd after he is once again overwhelmingly re-elected to yet another term in the legislature.

        • John says:

          Backbencher Casada will probably be reelected. I doubt the people of Williamson County appreciate losing the Speaker’s Office to an East Tennessee Republican, though. Bill Lee may pay the price for that. Are they going to risk losing the Governor’s Mansion to another East Tennessee Republican, or are they going to primary Bill with one of their own? It could get ugly, especially if the Trump-wing takes on the Chamber of Commerce at County GOP reorganizations next year as anticipated.

          • Stuart I. Anderson says:

            Glen Casada (ACU-88%) mishandled his speakership, a position he worked very hard to achieve for years and as a result he lost it within months. END OF STORY. On the other hand, Glen has outstanding constituent service, a conservative voting record reflecting the views of a majority of his constituents and on a personal level has an ingratiating personality that has made him a favorite of Republicans in Williamson County.

            The War Between the States and the resentments born of that struggle have considerably faded into history and so have the regional rivalries in this state that were exacerbated by that struggle. Bill Lee is not going to face a primary opponent nor is he going to be seriously challenged by a Democrat. With the exception of his foreign immigration fiasco from which he hopefully learned not to cross conservatives, he has managed to strike just the right tone that has satisfied, or at the very least has not alienated, a vast majority of Tennesseans as reflected in the polls I have seen. As for the Trumpidians vs. the Chamber of Commerce in any organized manner, I’ll believe it when I see it.

  • Charles Sumner says:

    Looks like Gov. Lee cannot let go of the ESA school vouchers. He seems oblivious to the facts. Some 90% of the private K-12 schools are religious and inculcate their particular brand of religion. Catholics predominate, because they had a network of schools originally set up because public schools were basically Protestant. Then there was white flight. Now we have two Muslim schools in Nashville, and that scares legislators. When Shelby county private schools started seeking vouchers in February, 94% were religious. Handouts to schools not controlled by the public is immoral. If the push continues, we will have to impose regulations on the religious schools. They won’t like that. We will have to be sure that contraceptives are promoted in their high schools. We will have to make sure they don’t teach anti-scientific theories.

    • Stuart I. Anderson says:

      No problem teaching religion in schools so long as they also teach reading, civics, and arithmetic, something that all too many government schools simply no longer do very well. Now Charles, if you want to eliminate compulsory education up to a certain grade and make education optional, while I wouldn’t agree with doing so, I would agree that under those circumstances those families that chose to educate their children should pay for their education. On the other hand, if we as a society understandably decide that everyone should have a certain minimum education then society should pay for that minimum education but it certainly doesn’t have to be furnished by government run schools. In fact, it is beyond dispute that the furnishing of goods and services of all kinds are almost always accomplished more efficiently if done in a fee market environment rather than a market where one of the providers has monopoly or near monopoly power.

      Given compulsory schooling paid for by the government, basic standards regarding reading, civics, and mathematics should be set by the government in exchange for that funding. There is no need to set any other standards or regulations. Of course Charles, if you are a liberal control freak it is not surprising that you would want to rigidly control any private schools that you allow to exist as though they were government schools. Thankfully, however, control freaks don’t make up a majority of Tennessee’s electorate so I’m not that concerned. Let’s just have a free market in education..

      • MARLE says:

        Yes, thank you Charles. We certainly need to dedicate all public monies to the government education model because of the really important things……..”We will have to be sure that contraceptives are promoted in their high schools.

        I am sure some lament that abortion is not “Promoted” in our government schools. Or perhaps not so subtly it is. How do we have time left in the school day for reading and writing with all the promotional activity crowding out the curriculum?

    • Donna Locke says:

      Charles, thank you for your long service on the religion-state separation issue.

      • Donna Locke says:

        The vouchers are part of Bill Lee’s evangelical mission. He wants to start small and spread his agenda to the entire state. How dare we question someone who is on a mission from God?

  • steve cates says:

    Hooray!! I hope these comments mean support for a DEM to replace Lee at this end of this term! He is one of the weakest I have seen in my 80 years as a native-born Tennessean.

    • Stuart I. Anderson says:

      Isn’t that cute, eighty years-old and still waiting for the return of the Democrats as the dominant party in Tennessee. I’m afraid your buddy Lyndon Johnson wounded that cause and Barack Hussein Obama destroyed it for at least a generation. Bet you miss steam engines too on the L & N too.

  • LeeAnn C. says:

    My legislator told me the bill was just a mess, as in very poorly written. Seems that Glen Casada’s desire to be in Bill Lee’s good graces and push the bill through the house, no matter what, has backfired. First in his decline and ultimate ousting as speaker and now the challenge of this legislation. Hopefully, when the legislature resumes in a few weeks, they won’t be so hasty to support whatever latest notion our big government governor has proposed. The proposal that needs to be killed off are those that every attorney general in the state opposed. The legislature needs to toe the line and protect us all from the apparent lunatic in the executive office!

  • Benton Temple says:

    Lee just flat out is not a good governor. He has absolutely nothing to show after 2 legislative sessions. Is it a staff issue? Or is it Lee himself?

    Making farm videos is nice and all, but you also need to show some level of achievement – major tax reform, 2A freedoms, cutting unnecessary laws from the books, healthcare reform, just decreasing the size and scope of government overall.

    Lee just isn’t doing ANYTHING. The legislative leadership, McNally & Sexton, are carrying all the leadership water.

    The ESAs are just an unmitigated disaster. Tennessee misses Governor Haslam.

    • Beatrice Shaw says:

      We must have better working conditions and higher pay for teachers.

      • Stuart I. Anderson says:

        You bet Beatrice! Let’s have a free market in education that will mean what free markets mean in every profession where the skill of key employees are the difference between success and failure. Teachers who can show outstanding ability to educate their students will be compensated accordingly as schools compete for their services and schools will have to provide environments conducive to learning in order to attract students who will have a number of realistic choices as to where to get an education. Break out of the Government School Trust and join the advocates of a free market in education Beatrice and your wish will come to pass.

        • MARLE says:

          Compensating teachers for OUTCOMES??? Are you insane? Compensation should be given for years on the job (the Same Job with the Same duties) and the time spent in Higher Ed. That is the way Teachers have wanted their compensation structured. THEY are the problem.

    • LeeAnn C. says:

      Cameron Sexton just got there! All this happened under Casada! And yes, this legislation was faulty and should be left to die. Better to go back to the drawing board.

  • Bill Poppen says:

    The courts got it right but it is wrong not just because it only applies to two countries. It is wrong because it violates federal laws and TN laws of separation of church and state. In no way do I want my tax dollars going to private school that will be established for the wrong reasons. Those reasons are to segregate races and religions.

    • Donna Locke says:

      This is correct, Bill.

    • Stuart I. Anderson says:

      Well, no Bill. If the government stops operating schools and gives tuition to parents to spend in the schools of their choice it is not establishing or supporting anything other than the education which is a secular purpose, has the effect that neither advances nor inhibits religion, and does not create any government entanglement with religion. See Lemon v. Kurtzman (U.S. Sup. Ct – 1971).

      Why must you be such a busy body Bill? What satisfaction do you get depriving people of freedom to establish exactly the school they want in order to teach what they want so long as you have the right to do the same? Besides, though I don’t support such government interference, the fact is that you can’t legally “. . .segregate races and religions. . .” in admitting students or hiring faculty to private schools as a matter of fact (and even I would agree to a provision that a school couldn’t do that if it were to accept students using the government money to pay tuition). Let’s break out of the sclerotic government school monopoly by adopting a free market model of education.

      • John says:

        How is subsidizing private schools with tuition relief checks from the government a free market principle? Sounds like a handout that will, if the basic law of supply and demand holds, will just raise the price of tuition at private schools.

        • Stuart I. Anderson says:

          That’s an odd way of looking at a free market in education. All this arises because we as a society have decided that children must have a certain level of education and should have twelve years of education and we, as a society, have decided to pay for it to make sure that it is truly a universal requirement. The free market comes in because hopefully every child will have several schools from which his parents can realistically choose. Again, we demand every child have an education, we are willing to pay for that education, the parents choose where that education is to take place. Each private school will set its own price but that amount must have some relation to the amount charged by the government school that will be competing with it which will prevent the private schools from ratcheting up their prices too high.

    • MARLE says:

      All manner of TN sponsored scholarships, grants, loan forgiveness etc can be used at Private higher ed institutions. What is the difference…..a difference that actually matters.

  • Paul says:

    Many conservatives love vouchers until it affects their schools. As I’ve noted before, it is “vouchers for thee, but not for me”. As long as they can beat up on teachers and residents in urban areas, that’s swell. When it comes to the local school in some rural county, it’s not so swell. Let’s pick on Randy McNally for a minute (yes, I’m sure there’s some who will say he’s a RINO or something, but we’ll put that aside). There is zero, nada, zilch, absolutely no chance he’s every going to vote for vouchers for his district. Why? Because Oak Ridge schools are highly rated and he’s not going to take money away from them and hand it off to some private/other entity. He will get hammered by his constituents if he does. Ain’t gonna happen in his district. Forget it. No chance. And there’s lots of folks like him with an “R” by their name in the legislature. But he and others are happy to appease “the base” by voting for this nonsense as long as it applies to those “other folks” out there who are just desperate for this kind of help as they see it.

    Secondarily, in some rural county, there is little or no incentive from a financial view to build a bunch of charter schools to compete with “government schools”. First off, the student base is not big enough to turn this into a moneymaker (and this is about money in the end, not about education). Second, plenty of rural folks like their local schools. If someone tells them the Fightin’ Tigers of Blah Blah county are at risk in some regard and good old Mrs. Smith might not be teaching English and Social Studies anymore because of a charter school taking away money, that’s a problem for them. Heck, everyone likes Mrs. Smith. It’s those darn urban elites that need charter schools, not them, right?

    Finally, this being declared unconstitutional was a slam dunk and pretty obvious up front; what a waste of time by the conservative majority. Home rule is not a new concept in this state. At least they aren’t out messing up something else as a result of spending their time and energy on this debacle. Governor Lee needs to just keep on tilting at this windmill and local schools are safe as long as he does that. Carry on Governor Lee with that appeal process….that needs a lot of time and executive energy on your part.

    • Stuart I. Anderson says:

      Of course, you raise a number of good points that accounts for the fact that establishing a free market in education is so difficult and not practical in many rural communities unless the government schools are truly terrible and there is a majority opinion that they need replacing. As for their practicality in urban communities that raises a very important and controversial issue. The underlying basis for a free market approach is that every child is capable of being educated and it’s just the lousy government schools that cause certain groups of children to do so badly in reading, arithmetic, etc. What if, on the other hand, certain large groups of children don’t have the capacity to be educated because of certain heritable traits so no matter what education is provided to them it will do no good? That goes against the zeitgeist, so lets consider it no more, but it does raise an interesting question don’t you think?

  • Donna Locke says:

    I see no point in voting for a Republican for governor again.

    • Stuart I. Anderson says:

      I often see no point in voting Republican in the abstract either until the frightening aspect of the leftists in the Democratic Party controlling anything, anywhere, anytime where I happen to fall under their jurisdiction comes to my attention. When that happens, unless I’m confronted with a hideously obnoxious character (e.g. John McCain) or a lying pillar of pablum (e.g. “Lips” Bush) or an ineffectual jerk (e.g. “Uniter” Bush) I vote Republican because the Democrats give me no choice.

    • Benton Temple says:

      There’s a lot of reasons to vote for a GOP governor. Better government overall. Bill Lee is just not suited to govern or has any interest in even trying.

  • Phil Lassiter says:

    Hey everyone!!!! Covid 19 is over!!!! Has to be. I just saw FB posts where a groups or medical professionals and at least one hospital CEO who say they live in Nashville area are hiking the Appalachian trail this week. Go for it! Trust the professionals!

    • Stuart I. Anderson says:

      Not necessarily Phil. It just might be that we are dealing with a group well under the age of 60 who plan to be out in the fresh air so the potential of their catching anything from each other meeting outside and hiking outside is infinitesimally small. You see they are “medical professionals” not leftist politicians desperately trying to keep this country’s economy in shambles until the Presidential Election by causing everyone to stay locked down.

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  • Charles Sumner says:

    When you see that someone refers to public schools as “government schools,” you know the person lacks knowledge of the concept of schools controlled locally by a school board and local people involved in education. That person probably believes that the monied lobbyists who spend all that dough on promoting handoffs to private schools and influencing legislators are altruistic. We know that privatization means a profit to some organization or a bone thrown to a religious group (viz., prisons). Public schools have helped society. They bring together people of different races, ethnicities and religions and help enable our nation to live up to E Pluribus Unum.

    • MARLE says:

      “Schools are controlled by local school board and local people.”

      When you start off with such a flawed premise there is no hope you’d ever be able to see why the term “government” schools is the correct one. Local school boards control virtually nothing about how a school is run. But I see that it creates the mis-Impression that the State government is not the arbiter of 99% of what goes on.

      • MARLE says:

        Want to correct myself…..Add Federal government (including Supreme Court) to the State government in that 99% figure.

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