Tennessean: Tennessee lawmakers weigh school voucher money as other education initiatives face cuts

Updated: May 29, 2020

Natalie Allison | Tennessean | May 6, 2020

Gov. Bill Lee is fighting to preserve his top legislative victory, having narrowly accomplished what had never before been done in Tennessee through the passage of his 2019 school voucher program.

But the question remains whether $38 million budgeted to reimburse Davidson and Shelby county schools as part of the education savings account program is the best use of state funds during an economic crisis, and whether lawmakers will ultimately sign off on its inclusion in a bare-bones budget come June.

A judge late Monday declared the ESA program, which would use public money to pay for private school tuition for some low-income students in Nashville and Memphis, unconstitutional. Lee has vowed the state will appeal the decision.

While Lee on Tuesday urged families to continue applying for the program despite the judge's order, his office on Wednesday evening announced that the state will not be processing applications or taking further action to implement the program until the legal questions are resolved in court.

When it comes to the fate of the reimbursement funding attached to the voucher program, Republicans in the legislature are echoing a common response: "Everything is on the table," multiple members said this week.

And with an estimated $516 million revenue shortfall just in the current 2019-20 budget year, a lot could be on the chopping block.

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