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Tennessee appeals court listens to school voucher arguments

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee continued to defend its school voucher program Wednesday, with attorneys asking a state appeals court to reverse a judge’s ruling declaring the program illegal.

Davidson County Chancellor Anne C. Martin ruled in May that the school 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 apply only to Nashville and Shelby County, which includes Memphis, the areas with the lowest performing schools and regions with Democratic political strongholds. Lawmakers from those regions have largely opposed the voucher program.

Tennessee’s attorney general office and school choice advocacy groups disagree with Martin, countering that the state is in charge of providing education and thus the “home rule” measure does not apply.

Known as education savings accounts, the 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.

However, despite being signed into law by Gov. Bill Lee last year, the program has never been implemented because of a lawsuit filed by local governments earlier this year.

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.

The three-judge appeals court is expected to make a decision in the coming weeks, where it will likely be appealed to the Tennessee Supreme Court.

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