Nashville, TN – On August 31, 2015, the Shelby County Board of Education (SCBE) filed an educational opportunity and school funding case alleging “dereliction” of duty on the part of the Governor and other state officials under the state constitution, in Shelby County Bd. of Educ. v. Haslam. Plaintiffs seek additional funding sufficient to educate its students.

Plaintiff’s complaint highlights the state constitution, which requires the state to provide an equitable and adequate education to all children in Tennessee. The State must offer students “at least the opportunity to acquire general knowledge, develop the powers of reasoning and judgment, and generally prepare students intellectually for a mature life,” quoting the Tennessee Supreme Court.

According to the complaint, “drastic cuts because of a lack of funding” prevent SCBE from providing “all of its students with a free, adequate, and equitable education,” in accordance with the state constitution and state statutes. SCBE claims that the state has also failed to fulfill its own funding statute and, further, has added unfunded mandates, such as computer-based tests without enabling schools to have basic computer capacity.

“While the Tennessee legislature has been adept at mandating a host of reforms on their schools, teachers and students, they preside over one of the most unfair school funding systems in the nation,” said David Sciarra, of the Education Law Center, and co-author of Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card.

Plaintiff articulates specific educational needs among its students and the programs and services that have proven effective in meeting those needs. However, plaintiff claims it has been forced to eliminate these programs and services and to increase class sizes due to the State’s underfunding.

Moreover, the complaint recounts deep cuts to professional development for educators and negative impacts on its physical facilities, safety and security, and transportation.

“Make no mistake. This is a battle to save public education for public school children in public schools,” said Alan Rupe, one of the Lewis Brisbois attorneys for Shelby County Schools. “Tennessee and Kansas are two of several states fighting to uphold their constitutions, fighting to provide their children an adequate and equitable education, and fighting for free and appropriate public schools. As Teresa Jones, Shelby County Board of Education chairwoman said, ‘now is the time for Tennessee to step up and fulfill its Constitutional obligation to support our students.'” Mr. Rupe also serves plaintiffs in the Kansas Gannon litigation.


To right the violations alleged, plaintiff seeks:

  • The court’s judgment finding that the State has failed to adequately fund education in violation of both the Tennessee Constitution and its own funding statute;
  • The court’s judgment finding that the imposition of “school fees” to fund a “free public education” violates the state constitution;
  • The court’s judgment finding that the State’s inadequate funding and imposition of fees has had especially damaging effects on the disadvantaged students, students with disabilities, and those of foreign origin that the school district serves; and
  • A court order requiring the State to provide an adequate and equitable free education to all Shelby County School District students.


The Shelby County Board of Education (SCBE) governs and operates the Shelby County School District, which includes Memphis and its surrounding county and is the state’s largest school district. The complaint states that the county board of education “brings this case on behalf of itself, the District, its teachers, and their students.”

The defendants are state officials, including Governor William Haslam, legislative leaders, the Education Commissioner, and the members of the State Board of Education. The plaintiff filed in the Chancery Court of Davidson County, home of the state capital, Nashville.

Earlier this year, seven of the state’s county school systems filed a similar educational opportunity and school funding case, in Hamilton County Bd. of Educ., et al. v. Haslam. They also filed in the state capital, in Davidson County Chancery Court.

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Molly Hunter
Director, Education Justice
973-624-1815, x 19

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