FILE - Nashville Mayor John Cooper 1-27-20

Nashville Mayor John Cooper

A nonprofit representing two single mothers has filed a motion to intervene in a lawsuit that is seeking to halt a program that would allow qualifying parents to receive public funds via Education Savings Accounts to send their children to a private school, rather than a public or charter school.

The city of Nashville and Shelby County are suing the Tennessee Department of Education and the office of Gov. Bill Lee over the program, arguing it violates Tennessee law.

The free-market, nonprofit The Beacon Center of Tennessee is seeking to intervene in the lawsuit on behalf of two mothers from Nashville, Bria Davis and Star Brumfield, who both have children who qualify for the ESA program.

"It is unfathomable that [Nashville] Mayor [John] Cooper would spend precious taxpayer resources to prevent Nashville's children from obtaining a better education, all at a time when our city has no money to spend,” Beacon Center President and CEO Justin Owen said in a news release. “Instead of siding with low-income families who just want to give their children a quality education, the city of Nashville has decided to stand with special interest groups that care more about what's best for adults than what's best for kids."

The motion to intervene argues the parents of qualifying students are an interested party who have a legal right to intervene in the lawsuit.

Braden Boucek, the vice president of legal affairs at the Beacon Center, told The Center Square in a phone interview that the parents see this lawsuit launched against the ESA program as potentially robbing them of their ability to send their children to the school of their choice, which is the Lighthouse Christian School in Nashville. Although there is not yet enough data to show whether ESA programs improve school quality, he said school choice should be something everyone can agree on.

“The parents choosing their school is the success metric,” Boucek said.

The lawsuit says the program violates the Home Rule Amendment because it only qualifies a small number of counties, and it did not seek their approval. It also claims the program violates equal-protection guarantees and puts too much of a financial burden on local school districts.

The city of Nashville did not respond to a request for comment from The Center Square. Shelby County declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Boucek said he expects Nashville and Shelby to lose the lawsuit.

“We’re fully confident that the program will withstand Constitutional scrutiny,” Boucek said.

The program has come under additional scrutiny from lawmakers in the past week after the Tennessee Department of Education signed onto a contract that allocated more money than planned for the program.

Staff Reporter

Tyler Arnold reports on Virginia and Tennessee for The Center Square. He previously worked for the Cause of Action Institute and has been published in Business Insider, USA TODAY College, National Review Online and the Washington Free Beacon.