TRI-CITIES, Tenn. (WJHL) – State Sen. Jon Lundberg (R-Bristol) said Northeast Tennessee won’t be affected by a Tennessee Supreme Court ruling that school vouchers in other parts of the state are constitutional.

In a major victory for Gov. Bill Lee’s legislative agenda, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled in favor of the state Department of Education in a court battle against school districts in Davidson and Shelby counties.

The ruling means school vouchers in those counties are constitutional, which provides $7,000 for low-income families and students at under-performing schools to instead pay for tuition at charter schools.

Lundberg said the under-performing schools in Davidson and Shelby Counties were designated as priority schools under the Education Savings Account Act passed in 2019.

“Guess what the best potential outcome is for your child, it’s almost criminal,” Lundberg said. “To give them a chance to send their child to another school of their choice, I think is the right thing to do.”

He said schools in Northeast Tennessee are providing much higher quality education, so the need for charter schools is not present.

Court clears path for long-blocked Tennessee school vouchers

“We don’t have any that are even tracking toward the priority school list, so that’s really good,” Lundberg said. “A lot of educators say, “Well this is terrible. This is going to change everything.” No, it’s not. It’s not going to have an impact in Northeast Tennessee.”

Daniel Suhr, a managing attorney for the Liberty Justice Center, represented a charter school in the Tennessee Supreme Court case.

Suhr said the court’s ruling affirmed the state government sets education policy. He said that means voucher programs could be expanded.

“It opens the door for the General Assembly to provide additional educational options if it chooses to,” Suhr said.

But the ruling has some local school officials concerned.

Johnson City School Board Chair Kathy Hall said her board had passed a proclamation disapproving of charter schools and vouchers in the past.

She had concerns about voucher programs using public money to fund private charter schools.

“Public school dollars are very important to all public schools, so anytime you’re taking money away from our schools or school across the state, I think the students suffer,” Hall said.

Washington County Superintendent Jerry Boyd said charter schools would create a competitive education marketplace.

He said public schools in Northeast Tennessee are still the best option for parents and students, but the ruling would force his district to adjust, perhaps for the better.

“We can’t just sit back and just expect that we won’t be facing those challenges,” Boyd said. “Parents make choices and we want to be able to put ourselves as a school system serving all public school students in the best position for parents to believe we’re the best choice for them, so the competitiveness is not such a negative thing.”

Suhr said Tennessee’s charter schools could open in the fall.

After that, a three-year study to be presented to the Tennessee General Assembly will be conducted detailing the performance of those schools.