NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Parents in Memphis and Nashville “need to have Plan B” and the state education department needs to post the current status of Governor Bill Lee’s new voucher program this fall according to the latest ruling from a Nashville judge.
Chancellor Anne Martin in her opinion late Thursday said “it is not helpful when representative of the state make statements to the public and the press that are inconsistent with the court’s ruling and the true status of the program.”
Chancellor Martin earlier in the week ruled the governor’s voucher plan “unconstitutional” because it violated the “home rule” for local school districts and now “it is up to a higher court to decide if I got it right.”
Formally called an Education Savings Account (ESA) for students at lower-performing schools in Memphis and Nashville, Chancellor Martin singled out Governor Lee’s comments at a COVID-19 briefing this week that preparations were continuing.
“In addressing the governor’s statements at the press conference on May 5th, 2020 the court does not take offense,” said Chancellor Martin, “Honestly, things are moving very quickly, the decision had just come out the evening before and the court assumes Governor Lee was not prepared for the question, particularly at a COVID-19 press conference.”
The chancellor added she is “more concerned with the mixed messaging of the department of education that there is no reference to the lawsuit or the status on the website. The current status is the program is enjoined as enacted because it was enacted in an unconstitutional manner.”
The chancellor concluded, “whatever happens on appeal will happen but the current status is the program is not going forward and parents need to be told and have a plan B.”
Chancellor Martin said the state could only take applications through today (May 7) and “the state remains enjoined however from using state resources to otherwise process applications, engage with parents and schools remit any funds in support of the program.”
The chancellor also ordered the state “to post on the ESA website a notice to the public that the program is currently enjoined. That the ruling is being appealed. That the state is hopeful it is successful on appeal and can put the program into effect for the upcoming school year, but that remains uncertain at this time and families need to have a backup plan for school next year.”
The governor’s office released a statement late Thursday afternoon:
“While we are disappointed the larger stay was denied, we are pleased that Tennessee families were allowed to continue applying to the program through today’s deadline. We are working closely with the Attorney General to pursue an immediate appeal of the ruling.”