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Parents, school advocates sue TN leaders over school voucher program for low performing Memphis and Nashville public schools

Lawsuit is second filed in less than a month against education savings accounts, a program Gov. Bill Lee hopes will begin this fall

MEMPHIS, Tennessee —

There's another classroom battle heading to  the courtroom. Monday, Shelby County and Nashville public school parents sued the state leaders over education savings accounts, better known as school vouchers. A SCS parent is among the plaintiffs who is arguing it's unconstitutional to take public money to spend on private school vouchers.

Monday's lawsuit follows another one filed against the state last month on behalf of those with Shelby County and Metro Nashville Schools. School choice supporters said the legal opposition looks to deny choice for students in low performing districts. A 34-page-complaint filed Monday morning contends the education savings account - or school voucher - program violates the Tennessee constitution and diverts critically needed public education funding from public schools in Shelby and Davidson counties.

"Our public schools are severely underfunded as it is," SCS parent Tracy O'Connor - one of the lawsuit's 11 plaintiffs - said.

"I fear that vouchers will encourage similar fly by night private schools to open so they can receive tuition," O'Connor said. "I believe that's an unacceptable use of my taxpayer dollars."

RELATED: Parents sue Tennessee to block unconstitutional voucher law

RELATED: Shelby County joins Nashville in lawsuit challenging school vouchers in Tennessee

The school voucher law narrowly passed in the Tennessee legislature by one vote last year. Gov. Bill Lee wants the program to begin this fall for up to 5,000 Memphis and Nashville public school students zoned in low performing school areas. The education savings accounts would provide up to $7,000 for parents to use on things like private school tuition or tutoring.

"I'd like to think about it in terms of being parental choice," Dr. Kenneth Whalum said.

Dr. Whalum is a voucher supporter and former SCS board member. In late January, he led a caravan of others in favor of school choice from Memphis to Nashville.

RELATED: Caravan of school voucher supporters spend day in Tennessee state capitol, as program’s scheduled launch this fall remains source of passionate debate

"What the lawsuit is trying to do is to protect systems and not protect students," Dr. Whalum said.

A spokesperson for the American Federation for Children - which supports school vouchers - said about 30 private schools in the Memphis area expressed interest in participating in the voucher program.

The AFC also launched a new website Monday - www.tnschoolfinder.org - for parents in Memphis and Nashville to compare their zoned public school to other public schools, public charter schools and private schools in their area.