On March 24, 2015, seven county school districts filed a lawsuit in state court alleging that the Tennessee school funding system violates the Tennessee Constitution’s education clause, its equal protection provisions, and its unfunded mandates provision. Plaintiffs also allege a violation of the state’s school funding statute.

In Hamilton County Board of Education, et al., v. Haslam, et al., plaintiffs rely on the 1993 precedent, in Tennessee Small School Systems v. McWherter, in which the state’s supreme court held that the state constitution provides students with the fundamental right to a free public education, including ‘the opportunity to acquire general knowledge, develop the powers of reasoning and judgment, and generally prepare intellectually for a mature life.”

Each plaintiff county board of education brought the case “on behalf of itself and the teachers whom it employs and the students whom it educates.” The seven counties are primarily in southeastern Tennessee and include Chattanooga, the fourth largest metropolitan area in the state.

Defendants include Governor Haslam, legislative leaders, the Commissioner of Education, and the members of the Tennessee Board of Education.

In their Complaint, the Hamilton County Bd. of Educ. plaintiffs seek declaratory judgments from the court on all four counts and ask the court to direct the state to remedy the alleged violations. The unfunded mandate claim is based on what plaintiffs state are extensive additional and costly responsibilities placed on schools by the state with no funding to cover them.

Multiple school districts in Tennessee asked the governor a year ago “to address the inadequacies of the state’s funding system,” said Will Pinkston, a school board member in Nashville. “When local school systems’ pleas for assistance fall on deaf ears, sometimes the only place to turn is the third branch of government. A lot of individual school board members across the state support this litigation because it challenges state officials to fulfill their constitutional obligations to our public school students and teachers.”

Plaintiffs are represented by Leitner, Williams, Dooley & Napolitan. The State Defendants will be represented by the Tennessee Attorney General.


Education Law Center Press Contact:

Molly A. Hunter

Education Justice, Director

973-624-1815, x 19

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Press Contact:
Sharon Krengel
Director of Policy, Strategic Partnerships and Communications
973-624-1815, x240