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    by Jon Styf   A Tennessee trial court ruled Friday that Tennessee’s Education Scholarship Program can move forward. A three-judge panel heard arguments earlier in the day from the American Civil Liberties Union and Southern Poverty Law Center. The two groups had asked the court to deliver an injunction against the pilot program. “The Plaintiffs have failed to demonstrate that the extraordinary remedy of an injunction is warranted,” the ruling stated. “Specifically, we are unpersuaded that the harm the Plaintiffs believe to be imminent is sufficiently irreparable or certain so as to justify blocking the implementation of a duly enacted statute of this state at this stage of the litigation. Moreover, in light of the complex legal issues in this case, and the uncertain impact on the Plaintiffs, the Court cannot find, based upon this limited record, that the Plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits of their claims at this time. “Although the Plaintiffs concerns at the rushed process, uncertain details of the ESA rollout and apparent lack of compliance with some of the ESA Act provisions are worthy of...
    by Jon Styf   A Tennessee trial court heard arguments on Friday in an attempt to place another injunction on the Education Savings Account program for Davidson and Shelby counties. The new ESA program, set to begin with this school year, is now being contested based upon its swift implementation. Lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union and Southern Poverty Law Center argued that, since schools did not have time to budget for the potential loss of student funds due to the late implementation of the new program, that an injunction would be required. The program — created by a 2019 bill from the ESA — was only allowed to begin after Tennessee’s Supreme Court ruled in May that the program was constitutional and then ruled in June to deny Metro Nashville’s petition for the court to reconsider its ruling. According to Stephanie Bergmeyer, a lawyer for the state, students who are accepted into the program in the two counties will receive $7,572 in funding next year and up to a 6% administrative fee amounting to $454 per student can be applied to that funding....
    Governor Bill Lee said last week that more than 2,000 families in Shelby and Davidson counties have already signed up for school vouchers. According to the Tennessee Department of Education, up to 5,000 are available this upcoming school year. In 2019, the Tennessee General Assembly passed and Governor Bill Lee signed Public Chapter 506, which created the Tennessee Education Savings Account (ESA) program. The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled in May that the school voucher program is constitutional. “We’re very hopeful. The law passed two years ago, and these families have waited a long time for this,” Lee said while speaking at Knowledge Quest’s Teen Tech Center in Memphis last Friday. The ESA program allows eligible students who are zoned to attend a Shelby County district school, a Metro Nashville public school, or a school that was in the Achievement School District (ASD) to use state and local money toward education expenses, including tuition and/or fees at approved private schools, according to the Tennessee Department of Education. ESAs are available to families who live in Tennessee with a student entering kindergarten...
    According to the governor’s office and the cities of Memphis and Nashville, more than 40 independent school districts have committed to allowing families to enroll in Education Savings Account (ESA) programs beginning in the 2022-2023 academic year. “There was an urgent need for school choice in 2019, and finally, parents in Memphis and Nashville won’t have to wait another day to choose the best educational fit for their children,” said Gov. Bill Lee (R). “I thank each school that has partnered with us to swiftly implement a program that will change the lives of Tennessee students, and I invite interested families to begin the enrollment process today.” The state explained the program’s purpose in an open letter to parents in Shelby County and Nashville. “In 2019, the Lee Administration pledged to ensure that every child in Tennessee had access to a high-quality education, no matter the zip code,” the letter said. “The Education Savings Account (ESA) program was built to support parents in Memphis and Nashville who urgently need access to options beyond traditional public school. While roadblocks have unnecessarily...
    by Cole Lauterbach   Arizona is likely to become the first state in America that empowers students to take tax dollars with them to a school of their choosing. Lawmakers sent House Bill 2853 to Gov. Doug Ducey on Friday. When the governor signs the bill, all of Arizona’s school-age children will be eligible for the Empowerment Scholarship Account. An ESA is a state-funded account that parents can spend on tuition and other education expenses. The program is currently limited to disabled students, those in failing schools or others that qualify in a handful of other methods. The program will be available to more than 1.1 million students across the state. Legislative analysts estimate 25,000 students would use the expanded program, up from 11,725 current ESA students. The average ESA spends $6,400, analysts said. “And they said it couldn’t be done! The most expansive school choice program in the nation has passed the legislature and is on its way to the Governor’s desk,” House Majority Leader Ben Toma, R-Peoria, tweeted Friday evening. The legislation gives the Arizona Department of Education ​​$2.2 million and allows for...
    Live from Music Row Monday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed Southeastern Legal Foundation Director of Litigation Braden Boucek to the newsmaker line to explain how the educational savings account works and offer updates on pending litigation demonstrating the state’s resistance toward parents who want to control their children’s education. Leahy: We welcome to our newsmaker line, our very good friend Braden Boucek, who is director of litigation for the Southeastern Legal Foundation. Braden, tell us about the May 17th decision by the Tennessee Supreme Court that reaffirmed the educational savings account, or voucher, bill that was passed by the Tennessee General Assembly. This was a big victory for the governor. Tell us what was at issue in the case, what the decision was, and where it stands now. Boucek: Thanks, Michael. It’s great to be back on. As you said, just a couple of weeks ago, the Tennessee Supreme Court approved Governor Lee’s school choice program....
              by Bethany Blankley   As school districts across the U.S. start 2022 in remote-learning settings or are considering doing so because of a rise in COVID-19 cases, parents now have more options as 22 states expanded or created school choice initiatives in 2021. That’s a silver lining, advocates say, as parents grow more frustrated by ever-changing mandates, failed virtual learning outcomes and conflicting views with school boards over a range of issues. Last year was an “historic year for school choice in America,” the American Federation for Children said in its analysis of “school choice victories.” “A record number of states passed legislation to create, expand, or improve school choice programs and hundreds of thousands of children stand to benefit,” it added. Nearly half of all state legislatures last year increased funding for school choice programs in their state budgets or passed laws to expand or create new Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) or scholarship programs. They also notably expanded eligibility requirements to include home-schooling, charter schools and private schools. Four states created entirely new programs; three created new and expanded...
    Arizona Republicans are a few steps from sending Gov. Doug Ducey a broad expansion of the state’s Empowerment Scholarship Account Program. The House Ways and Means Committee voted Wednesday in favor of Senate Bill 1452 after two hours of tense debate. If enacted, it would expand the ESA eligibility to any student who resides in a Title I school district. Districts are designated Title I schools if they have a high ratio of low-income students or a high rate of free-or-reduced lunch program participants. The ESA program, which began in 2011, allows parents to take a portion of the state funds allocated to their child’s school and put it toward the cost of attending a private, charter or out-of-district school. It has 9,808 students participating. After the change, 800,000 of the state’s 1.1 million students would be eligible for the expanded program, estimates said. It would represent one of the nation’s most-expansive school-choice programs. Opponents contend the program siphons needed funds from Arizona’s public schools, which are some of the lowest funded in the country. “We’re...
              Live from Music Row Wednesday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. –  host Leahy welcomed Tim Benson of the Heartland Institute to the newsmakers line. During the second hour, Benson discussed school choice legislation and the trends statewide proving a heavy want for other educations options for parents. He later discussed some polling that indicated about 82 percent of parents wanted the school voucher program in light of the COVID pandemic which has revealed the true colors of the education bueracracy. Leahy: We are joined on our newsmaker lined by Tim Benson with the Heartland Institute. He’s an expert on education policy. Tim, good morning. Benson: Hey, good morning. How you doing? Leahy: I’m doing great. Now the Heartland Institute is based in Chicago I believe which is cold and frigid like Nashville is today, but I see that you might actually be living in a warm climate today. Benson: Yeah, I work remotely so...
              The Tennessee Supreme Court has agreed to the state’s appeal on the constitutionality of its education savings account program (ESA). The pilot school voucher program has been tied up in a legal battle for all of 2020 after its passage by the General Assembly in 2019, thereby preventing any planned advancement of the program. The program was previously ruled unconstitutional by Davidson County Chancery Court Judge Anne Martin. She assessed it would disproportionately impact two counties: Shelby County Schools (SCS) and Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS). Those districts reportedly contain about 90 percent of the state’s failing schools list. The Court of Appeals upheld Martin’s decision last September. Appellants argued that the ESA program doesn’t violate the “home rule” – Article XI, § 9 of the Tennessee Constitution – because it doesn’t target only one, but two counties. The Liberty Justice Center and the Beacon Center of Tennessee joined the appeal. Liberty Justice Center senior attorney and State Senator Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) told The Tennessee Star that the urgency to implement this program has only grown due...
              Live from Music Row Wednesday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed Tennessee Director of the American Federation for Children Shaka Mitchell to the newsmakers line. During the third hour, Mitchell outlined the current lawsuit regarding Governor Lee’s education savings account pilot program that would enable parents and their students to attend the school of their choice in Davidson and Shelby counties. He informed that two weeks ago Lee had filed an appeal to the Tennessee Supreme Court and are expecting hearings to commence soon after the new year per the courts discretion. Leahy: We are joined in the studio with the original all-star panelist Crom Carmichael. And on our newsmaker line our good friend Shaka Mitchell who is the Tennessee State Director for the American Federation for Children. There’s a lawsuit that you folks are involved in. Tell us about it Shaka. Mitchell: Hey, good morning Michael Patrick. Thanks for having...
              A trio of organizations filed an amicus brief in the Tennessee Supreme Court asking justices to accept an appeal of a lawsuit over the educational savings account (ESA). The American Federation for Children joined Latinos for Tennessee and the Memphis Chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in the filing. The AFC is an affiliate of the Alliance for School Choice. Their amicus brief is available here. The Tennessee Court of Appeals in September ruled Gov. Bill Lee’s ESA program is “unconstitutional,” The Tennessee Star reported. The decision upheld a lower court’s ruling on the school voucher program, which was being piloted in Davidson and Shelby counties. The court of appeals ruled that the unconstitutionality of the ESA program is because it “is local in effect, and applicable to Davidson and Shelby counties in their governmental capacity.” This decision references article XI, section 9, paragraph 2 of the Tennessee Constitution. The three parties make their case by illustrating the struggles that parents have with public schools, including closures from the COVID-19 pandemic, especially...
            by Vivian Jones  State officials are asking the Tennessee Supreme Court to allow a school-choice program to move forward after being ruled unconstitutional by lower courts earlier this year. Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery III filed an appeal to the state Supreme Court on Tuesday afternoon, appealing decisions of district and appeals courts. The Education Savings Accounts (ESA) pilot program would provide state funded scholarships for low income students in Davidson and Shelby counties to attend private schools. Nashville and Shelby County filed suit against the Tennessee Department of Education in February, claiming the program violated the state constitution’s home rule amendment. Under that provision, the state Legislature is prohibited from passing laws that apply narrowly to localities without local approval. A Davidson County Chancery Court ruled the program unconstitutional in May, and the state appealed, hoping to roll out the program for the 2020-2021 school year. The state Supreme Court declined to hear the case directly in June, and the Court of Appeals ruled the program unconstitutional in September. Attorneys defending the program are...
    (CNN)It's another step in humankind's return to the moon, and eventually on to Mars. As NASA seeks to return humans to the lunar surface through its Artemis program, the space agency is adding international partnerships to facilitate sustainable exploration of the moon -- while demonstrating that a human mission to Mars is possible in the future. A collaborative agreement was finalized between NASA and the European Space Agency on Tuesday, and the two agencies will work together on the Artemis Gateway lunar outpost. This is also NASA's first formal agreement to launch international crew members to the moon during the Artemis missions, according to the agency. The Artemis Gateway will act as a way station serving astronauts traveling from Earth before they reach the surface of the moon. NASA mission finds water on the sunlit surface of the moon "This partnership leverages the outstanding cooperation established by the International Space Station as we push forward to the Moon," said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine in a statement. Read More"Gateway will continue to expand NASA's cooperation with international partners like ESA, ensuring...
              The Tennessee Court of Appeals ruled Governor Bill Lee’s educational savings account (ESA) program “unconstitutional” on Tuesday. The court’s decision upheld a lower court’s ruling on the school voucher program. The court of appeals ruled that the unconstitutionality of the ESA program is because it “is local in effect, and applicable to Davidson and Shelby counties in their governmental capacity.” This decision references article XI, section 9, paragraph 2 of the Tennessee Constitution. Both chambers of the Tennessee General Assembly adopted Lee’s ESA program last year. The program allows the state to administer public money to parents who want to move their children from low-performing public schools to private schools. Subsequently, the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County (Metro), the Shelby County Government, and the Metropolitan Nashville Board of Public Education filed suit against the State of Tennessee this past February. They argued that the program is unconstitutional because the state can’t target specific home-rule counties through legislation. Davidson County and Shelby County parents of public school children, as well as independent...
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