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Tennessee asks high court to take over school voucher lawsuit

An appellate court ruled Tuesday that it would continue to block Gov. Bill Lee's signature voucher program — known as education savings accounts.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — School voucher advocates are asking the Tennessee Supreme Court to take up the case of a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a program that would let parents use public tax dollars for private school tuition.

The Tennessee attorney general's office, as well as pro-voucher groups representing parents seeking to enroll in the contentious program, filed their motion with the high court this week.

The move comes after an appellate court ruled Tuesday that it would continue to block Gov. Bill Lee's signature voucher program - known as education savings accounts. That court scheduled an Aug. 5 hearing on the oral arguments. That ruling followed a lower court's determination that the voucher law was unconstitutional and unenforceable.

The defendants now argue that parents can't wait an additional three months because many schools will already be starting the 2020-21 school year by early August.

"This case presents a special need for an expedited decision from this court," the attorney general's filing read. "A final decision would bring certainty not only to the parties but to all the students applying for the program and the schools participating in it."

The education savings account program would allow eligible Tennessee families to use up to $7,300 in public tax dollars on private schooling tuition and other pre-approved expenses.

Davidson County Chancellor Anne C. Martin in early May ruled that the voucher law violated the Tennessee constitution's "home rule," which says the Legislature can't pass measures singling out individual counties without local support.

According to the law, the voucher program would only apply to Nashville and Shelby County, which includes Memphis, the areas with the lowest performing schools and regions with Democratic political strongholds.

The legal dispute was filed by Nashville and Shelby County officials, as well as opposing parents represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Education Law Center.

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