MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The legal battle over private school vouchers in Tennessee is far from over, despite a narrow state Supreme Court ruling Wednesday that the pilot voucher program championed by Gov. Bill Lee is constitutional.
The court, by a 3 to 2 vote, upheld the controversial initiative that passed in the legislature in 2019 with just one vote to spare. The law allows a select number of students in poor performing schools in the Metro Nashville and Memphis-Shelby County school districts to attend private schools using taxpayer dollars.
And therein lies the biggest problem with this law. It only applies to two of the state’s 95 counties. In fact, limiting it to just two school districts was the only way to guarantee the program would get legislative approval, because lawmakers elsewhere, including Knoxville, Chattanooga, Jackson, and rural areas, did not want vouchers in their communities.
But you cannot convince me that there are not any subpar schools in those places. Plus, the way the voucher law was rammed through the legislature is currently the subject of a federal criminal investigation, and who knows where that will lead.
Still, the Supreme Court has spoken, for now. And the case is headed back to a lower court for more litigation. When and if vouchers will ever be implemented remains up in the air. Which means the only thing certain about the program is its uncertainty.