Panel allows school voucher program to continue in Shelby County

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A Nashville panel on Friday evening denied parents’ request to stop a controversial school voucher program.

The Educational Savings Account program will allow low-income parents in Memphis-Shelby County Schools and Nashville Metro Schools to use state money to send their kids to private schools.

“The Constitution demands adequate and equal public support, not throwing our hands up and saying, ‘Let’s move to private school and further de-fund problems,’” said Chris Wood, an attorney arguing against the vouchers. “That’s going to exacerbate the challenges that we are already facing and cause further harm. It’s not an answer to any inadequacies within the public school system.”

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A family of four must make less than $72,000 a year to qualify for the program, which would award a family nearly $8,200 to the private school of their choice. However, FOX13 reported that the average cost of private school in the state is about $10,000.

Last month, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee visited Saint Benedict at Auburndale, a private school in Cordova, to advocate for the program. He said 40 schools have committed to the program so far. The state claims 2,200 families have applied for the program.

“So, if a parent now has a choice, another option for the education for their child that they believe is a better option, then it certainly stands to reason that it will benefit that child,” Lee said.

Opponents argue that the program would move much-needed taxpayer dollars out of public schools.

“Both Nashville and Shelby County have robust public school choice options already,” said Wood. “If folks are unhappy with their schools, they can opt to go to many different other public schools.”

School starts on Monday in Shelby County.