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State ex rel. The Metropolitan Government of Nashville v. State

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

April 3, 2017

STATE EX REL. THE METROPOLITAN GOVERNMENT OF NASHVILLE AND DAVIDSON COUNTY, TN
v.
STATE OF TENNESSEE, ET AL.

          Session February 21, 2017

         Appeal from the Chancery Court for Davidson County No. 16-979-III Ellen H. Lyle, Chancellor

         The Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County filed a petition for a writ of mandamus against the State, seeking full funding for English language learner teachers and translators in accord with the ratios found in Tennessee Code Annotated § 49-3-307(a)(7). The trial court denied the writ of mandamus. We affirm.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Chancery Court Affirmed

          J. Brooks Fox, Lora Barkenbus Fox, Catherine J. Pham, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County.

          Herbert H. Slatery, III, Attorney General and Reporter; Andrée Blumstein, Solicitor General; Stephen A. Hart, Special Council, Jay C. Ballard, Deputy Attorney General, Joseph P. Ahillen, Assistant Attorney General, Laura Miller, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellees, State of Tennessee and Tennessee General Assembly.

          Andy D. Bennett, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Frank G. Clement, Jr., P.J., M.S., and Richard H. Dinkins, J., joined.

          OPINION

          ANDY D. BENNETT, JUDGE

         Background

         Some history may be beneficial to assessing the issue presented in this case. This is another case about education funding in Tennessee. The first case was brought in 1988. In that case, Tennessee Small School Systems v. McWherter, 851 S.W.2d 139, 141 (Tenn. 1993) ("Small Schools I"), an unincorporated association of small school districts, local education officials, parents, and students sued state officials seeking a declaration that Tennessee's school funding statutes were unconstitutional and that the state be required to create a new funding system that met constitutional standards. Nine urban and suburban school systems intervened maintaining that, if the issue was justiciable, then any remedy should consider differences in costs and needs among the various school systems. Small Schools I, 851 S.W.2d at 141. The trial court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and found the education funding system violated the Tennessee Constitution's equal protection requirements. Id. at 142. The defendants and intervenors appealed. The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court. Id. The Tennessee Supreme Court granted certiorari. After finding the matter justiciable, the Supreme Court determined that the education and equal protection provisions of the Tennessee Constitution require "a public school system that provides substantially equal educational opportunities to the school children of Tennessee." Id. at 148, 156. The appropriate remedy was to "be fashioned by the General Assembly." Id. at 156.

         Before the Supreme Court's final ruling in Small Schools I, the General Assembly passed the Education Improvement Act of 1992. 1992 Pub. Acts, ch. 535. The act created the Basic Education Program ("BEP"), which, as the Supreme Court explained in a subsequent case, was "designed to provide, when fully funded, the programs and services essential to a basic education for public school children in grades K through 12 throughout the State." Tenn. Small Sch. Sys. v. McWherter, 894 S.W.2d 734, 736 (Tenn. 1995) ("Small Schools II"). The act also contained governance and accountability provisions. Id. Small Schools II was filed because teachers' salaries were not included in the equalization scheme and full funding of the BEP would not occur until fiscal year 1997-98. Id. at 738. Ultimately, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that the BEP must include equalization of teacher salaries and that phasing in full funding was acceptable. Id.

         The final case of the Small Schools Trilogy is Tennessee Small School Systems v. McWherter, 91 S.W.3d 232 (Tenn. 2002) ("Small Schools III"). In reaction to Small Schools II, the General Assembly "enacted the salary equity plan in Tennessee Code Annotated § 49-3-366, which on a one-time basis attempted to equalize teachers' salaries in those school districts where the average salary was below $28, 094 as of 1993, but did not include teachers' salaries as a component of the BEP." Small Schools III, 91 S.W.3d at 237 (footnote omitted). The Tennessee Supreme Court determined that the new State law did not "comport with the State's constitutional obligation to formulate and maintain a system of public education that affords substantially equal educational opportunity to all students." Id. at 238. The Supreme Court reached this decision

because the plan does not include teachers' salaries as a component of the BEP necessary to provide a basic education, while including superintendents, principals, librarians, and other personnel, and does not equalize teachers' salaries according to the BEP formula inasmuch as it contains no ...

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