School Funding

Tennessee education funding lawsuit may head to new 3-judge panel


A six-year-old lawsuit over the adequacy of Tennessee’s public education funding could point to a three-judge panel, providing immediate ramifications of a new state law passed by Republicans seeking more favorable judicial results.

The dispute over the state’s basic education formula dates back to 2015. The main plaintiffs in the lawsuit were Shelby County Schools and Metro Nashville Public Schools until last fall, when a collective from 84 rural school districts joined as plaintiffs.

The case had been assigned to Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle, one of Nashville’s most respected lawyers. Then Lyle found herself in the political crosshairs of Republican lawmakers, who were angry with her decision in a voting rights case that allowed any voter fearing to catch COVID-19 to vote by mail.

Republicans introduced legislation to start a process for Lyle’s possible impeachment, and she then recused herself from the case. Lawsuits challenging the new state laws and constitutional questions had all been filed in Davidson County Chancellery Court.

When this legislation was blocked following a huge setback in Tennessee’s legal community, Republicans passed a new bill that would add two more judges to the chancellery, so that there would be one representative there. west, east and central state, to hear such cases.

The new law, unanimously opposed by Democrats, came into force on Thursday. Before 10 a.m., state attorneys filed a motion advising Davidson County Presiding Judge Joseph Binkley of the case of the educational formula corresponding to the description of a case to be referred to the State Supreme Court.

Charles Grant, the Nashville attorney representing the two major school districts, called on the state to file a procedural request.

Grant said the plaintiffs would alert the Supreme Court, as mandated by law, but that doesn’t mean school districts agree the case should go to a new three-judge panel.

Following Lyle’s recusal, the case was reassigned to State Senior Judge Don Ash, and trial is scheduled for November 15.

What is at stake are hundreds of millions of dollars a year in education funding. Complainants argue that the state’s education funding formula does not provide for enough teachers, sets teacher base salaries too low, and imposes a host of costs on local governments without additional funding.

“Under the new law, the Tennessee Supreme Court issued a rule providing for a procedure by which parties bringing an action against the state are required to notify the clerk that a case may come within the scope of enforcement of the new law, ”Grant said. the Tennessee Lookout. “The plaintiffs in the litigation over the funding of BEP schools, Metro Nashville schools and Shelby County schools, will comply with this new Supreme Court rule and file the required notice. In doing so, these plaintiffs do not not necessarily accept that the new law applies to the BEP Cas. “

The addition of rural school districts to the lawsuit adds a political layer to the case since opponents cannot argue that it is simply the two largest cities in Tennessee that are not happy with the adequacy of the funding for the. education.

Gov. Bill Lee’s administration suffered a critical legal defeat last year when a new education voucher law was declared unconstitutional. This case is under appeal. In the voting rights case, the state Supreme Court overturned Lyle’s decision allowing more voters to apply for mail-in ballots amid the pandemic. But it came with a caveat that attorneys for the state took a 180-degree turn during the appeal hearing and agreed to allow voters with certain pre-existing conditions and their guardians to ask for postal ballots.



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