State Supreme Court agrees to hear appeal over school voucher law

Gov. Bill Lee delivers his first State of the State address in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The State Supreme Court on Thursday agreed to hear an appeal of lower court rulings that Gov. Bill Lee’s signature school voucher to be unconstitutional.

Nashville Chancellor Anne Martin ruled in May that the law violated home rule provisions of the Tennessee Constitution by applying to only Nashville and Shelby County school districts without seeking support from either voters or local legislative bodies. The state sought a direct appeal to the Supreme Court but the justices declined to bypass the intermediate Court of Appeals, which unanimously upheld Martin’s original ruling.

Attorneys for Nashville and Shelby County governments argued the Supreme Court shouldn’t take up the appeal because the defendants hadn’t brought new arguments about the case. The state maintains home rule protections shouldn’t apply because school boards are separate from the operations of county governments.

The Supreme Court case will be closely watched as home rule disputes are only expected to multiply as rural-urban tensions largely match the partisan divide in the state.

Here’s a primer on the history of the home rule amendment from The Tennessee Journal in May 2020:

The subject of extending greater home rule powers was the subject of the greatest debate at a 1953 constitutional convention, but opposition failed to materialize at the ballot box as the change was approved with over 70% of the vote. The overwhelming approval reflected a sentiment summed up in an editorial in the Knoxville News Sentinel at the time that the change was needed to “make it tough on city charter meddlers in Nashville.”

State Supreme Court Justice A.B. Neil told the delegates to the constitutional convention the home rule question would be key to their deliberations. The General Assembly had handed down “too much unwise local legislation” over the years, the justice said, adding that many of those acts had “no merit other than to serve the basest ends in partisan politics.”

In a historical twist, the president of the 1953 constitutional convention was Prentice Cooper, a former governor who opposed the home rule amendment. Cooper, who died in 1969, was the father of Nashville Mayor John Cooper, who has led the charge to dismantle the voucher law on the basis of home rule violations.

13 Responses to State Supreme Court agrees to hear appeal over school voucher law

  • Avatar
    Henry Walker says:

    “The state maintains home rule protections shouldn’t apply because school boards are separate from the operations of county governments.” …….The issue is whether the counties have standing to challenge the voucher law. A county, of course, provides the money to run its schools and the voucher law, which will result in children leaving the public school systems, could punch a hole in the education budgets of Davidson and Shelby counties. As the court of appeals held, that possibility of direct injury gives the counties standing to challenge the voucher law. I don’t see how the state can get around that point. . ……..It is also a little ironic that the Tennessee AG’s office, which in December signed off on a brief arguing a far-fetched theory that Texas (or any state) had legal standing to challenge the election results in any other state, is now arguing that Davidson and Shelby counties lack standing to challenge the Tennessee voucher law.

    • Avatar
      Paul says:

      That’s spot on Henry. Ironic indeed. How much taxpayer money and time is Bill Lee going to waste on this fiasco? It’s always interesting to hear conservatives yammer on about local control/rights and then try to bigfoot around on the two largest metro areas in the state as if they’d never heard of the concept (and equally hypocritical, as you point out, recently having the AG signing off on a brief that some random state can challenge another state’s “local” election results and processes).

      If I was of an inquiring mind, I might ask “why pick on these two metro areas”? But the answer really doesn’t require much thought, since the rural majority in the legislature is willing to offer up local control when convenient for them, while taking the major tax dollars of these counties and spending it on their pet projects as they see fit — including subsidizing their own local pet projects — when it’s convenient in that regard. As with many things conservative-related, it’s X for me, but not X for thee, where X in this case equates to “local control”. Equally, the legislature really seems to see the citizens of these metro areas as somehow less than equal when it comes to treatment at the state level. I’ve said it before, when we see them passing laws that put vouchers in place for, say, some places like Grundy and Cocke County, they might seem more serious rather than playing to the what-conservatives-want grandstand crowd. Hopefully the courts see through this latest attack on letting localities run their own business.

      • Avatar
        James White says:

        All laws and bills should apply to everyone and everywhere equally.
        I will repeat: Thomas Sowell: If you are serious about wanting to improve education, do not vote more money for the education establishment that has been dumbing down the schools for years. Vote for vouchers, tax credits, or anything else that will transfer decision-making power to parents.

        • Avatar
          Jonathan Swift says:

          James, what makes you think that parents are the best decision makers regarding education?

          • Avatar
            Stuart I. Anderson says:

            Admittedly it’s a crapshoot but characteristically conservatives will bet on the parent who knows the child better than anyone else and who almost always loves the child most dearly and therefore most ardently wants the best for the child. Leftists will bet on a government bureaucrat. . .OF COURSE.

          • Avatar
            James White says:

            Jonathan, because the Lord gave the children to the parents not the state.

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            MARLE says:

            We have Wealth Disparity because we have parenting disparity.

            Obviously we’d need a ton of bureaucrats to oversee anything other than vouchers for accredited schools. And “no” an awful lot of parents do not value education so they may want the best pair of sneakers for their children but they have not prepared Themselves to be the best parental influence on their children. “Wealth disparity comes from parenting disparity”.

        • Avatar
          Phillip Lassiter says:

          Most likely a favor to a Governor who will be here 6 more years and might screw us with another appointed AG and stacked, unelected court

      • Avatar
        Taxpayer #314 says:

        It sounds to me like Henry and Paul know exactly what they speak of. I agree.

  • Avatar
    Phillip Lassiter says:

    Uh oh. Not often the judiciary wades into illegal activity also-especially the Supremes. Someone dropping off some big chunks of cash.

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