Counsel of Choice

 

Counsel of Choice

By Bert Gall

IJ has a proud history of defending school choice programs from legal attack by teachers’ unions and their allies. Indeed, IJ’s school choice team had no prouder moment than when the U.S. Supreme Court announced its groundbreaking decision upholding Cleveland’s school choice program in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris. After defending the program for six years (and litigating other choice cases for another six years before that), IJ secured a decision from the High Court that the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment does not stand in the way of states enacting school choice plans in which parents, not bureaucrats, pick the best place for their children to get a good education.

“IJ brings such a wonderful dynamic to the effort with its national perspective, its expertise, and its experience in litigating school choice cases. IJ has been an indispensable component of our efforts in Texas to create school choice legislation that is both effective and constitutionally sound.”

–Robert Aguirre (Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options)

But there is much more to IJ’s role in the national school choice effort. In the aftermath of Zelman, many legislators and grassroots organizations have worked hard to develop new school choice programs that will maintain the momentum created by Zelman. As they do so, IJ is there to play a familiar role not only in court, but also as the behind-the-scenes counselor, both on how to minimize the chance that programs will encounter legal difficulties, as well as how best to serve families that can benefit from choice. For example, we regularly provide advice on everything from how to address constitutional issues (such as the Blaine amendments that are found in so many state constitutions), to how to make sure that bureaucratic red tape won’t weigh new programs down.

This role isn’t as high-profile as our litigation efforts in defense of school choice, but it’s equally important in meeting our goal of extending educational opportunity to children all over the country. Before Zelman was decided, IJ attorneys gave advice on legal issues concerning the Cleveland program, the Milwaukee program, Florida’s Opportunity Scholarship Program and corporate tax credit programs, Illinois’ tax credit program and others. More recently, we have been working with grassroots groups and legislators from several other states—including Texas, New Hampshire, Missouri, South Carolina, Utah and Kansas—to help them craft good, solid plans. Sometimes, providing a helpful hand entails traveling to these states to meet with lawmakers and testify about legal issues before legislative committees that are considering school choice legislation.

Our allies count on the legal expertise we’ve gained during our role as defenders of school choice programs when they turn to us for guidance about crafting new programs. For example, Robert Aguirre is chairman of the board of the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options (HCREO), which is a major part of the grassroots coalition striving to secure school choice in Texas. Here’s how he describes IJ’s assistance: “IJ brings such a wonderful dynamic to the effort with its national perspective, its expertise and its experience in litigating school choice cases. IJ has been an indispensable component of our efforts in Texas to create school choice legislation that is both effective and constitutionally sound.”

We will continue to provide counsel to the many organizations and legislators who are working hard to bring real educational opportunity to children who are trapped in a public school monopoly that consistently fails them. And when these efforts bear fruit in the form of new school choice programs, IJ will be there in court—as it has always been—to defend them from attack.

Bert Gall is an IJ staff attorney.


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