AG opines on changing TN constitution’s education provisions

A new legal opinion from State Attorney General Herbert Slatery says a proposed amendment to the Tennessee Constitution regarding public school funding will not impact the state’s equal protection provisions, notes the Times-Free Press.

The opinion was requested by Rep. Bill Dunn. The Knoxville Republican’s proposed amendment makes a change to a section requiring state lawmakers to provide for the maintenance and support of a “system of free public schools” and, he thinks, allow lawmakers to spend what they wish.

Opponents to Dunn’s proposal (HJR493) have raised objections that it could impact equal protection provisions elsewhere in the document.

Dunn has maintained the amendment would not and Slatery’s opinion supports his view.

“The proposed amendatory language does not change the meaning of the public schools clause (article XI, § 12) of the Tennessee Constitution, and would not affect the equal protection provisions of article I, § 8 or article XI, § 8, of the Tennessee Constitution, which would still limit, as they do now, the authority of the General Assembly to determine how to provide for free public education in Tennessee pursuant to the public schools clause,” the opinion says.

The state Constitution’s equal protections as well as similar ones in the U.S. Constitution provided the basis of successful school-funding lawsuits in the 1990s and early 2000s in which smaller, largely rural systems complained they were treated unfairly by the state.

Dunn introduced the proposed change after school systems in Hamilton and six nearby counties last year filed a school funding lawsuits charging the state is short-changing all districts on funding. Shelby County schools filed its own suit.

Note: The full opinion is HERE.