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High court won't take over Tennessee voucher lawsuit

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee's highest court declined Thursday to take up an appeal of a lawsuit challenging the legality of a school voucher program that would let parents use public tax dollars for private school tuition.

Voucher supporters had hoped the Tennessee Supreme Court would reach down and take up the case after an appellate court set an Aug. 5 hearing to review the case.

However, the justices' decision effectively blocks the voucher program from being implemented for the 2020-21 school year because most schools will already be starting by August.

"Based upon the current totality of the circumstances, including the relevant timeline and the procedural posture of this case, the court concludes that this case does not warrant the extraordinary action of the exercise of the court's authority to assume jurisdiction," the justices wrote.

A spokesman for Gov. Bill Lee, who has championed the voucher law since signing it last year, said the Republican was disappointed by the decision.

"While we respect the court's decision, we are disappointed for the more than 2,000 students who applied for this program in the hope of receiving a better educational fit," said Gillum Ferguson, Lee's press secretary. "We'll continue to fight to give our families greater options and are committed to seeing this through in Tennessee."

Attorney General Herbert Slatery's office declined to comment on the Supreme Court's decision.

The program — known as education savings accounts — would allow eligible Tennessee families to use up to $7,300 in public tax dollars on private schooling tuition and other pre-approved expenses.

Davidson County Chancellor Anne C. Martin in early May ruled that the 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 only apply to Nashville and Shelby County, which includes Memphis, the areas with the lowest performing schools and regions with Democratic political strongholds.

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.

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