AZ Spec Needs & Foster Care - Release: 1-9-2007
Victory for School Choice:
Arizona Supreme Court Declines to Hear Lawsuit Threatening Scholarships for Disabled and Foster Children
WEB RELEASE: January 9, 2007
Lisa Knepper: (703) 682-9320
Tim Keller: (480) 557-8300
Arlington, Va.—In a victory for school choice, the Arizona Supreme Court today declined to consider the first-ever lawsuit filed to halt school choice programs for special needs and foster children. The Institute for Justice and its Arizona Chapter represent five families who intervened in the case to defend the new scholarship programs.
“This decision signals that the Arizona Supreme Court has already spoken on the issue of school choice, and it is indeed constitutional in Arizona,” said Tim Keller, executive director of the Institute for Justice Arizona Chapter. “School choice opponents should stop their legal battle against programs that simply empower parents choose the educational environment that best suits their children.”
The ACLU Foundation of Arizona and the People for the American Way filed suit against the programs in November, alleging they violate the state Constitution’s Blaine Amendments and its educational provisions. But years of legal precedent say otherwise. The Arizona Supreme Court flatly refused to strike down a scholarship tax credit program under the Blaine Amendments in 1999’s Kotterman decision, and the court has never interpreted the Arizona Constitution’s education provisions to thwart educational alternatives.
And according to a new report, Arizona already has at least six educational aid programs, including programs for children in foster care and students with disabilities. Those six voucher programs currently serve more than 22,000 students a year, totaling nearly $22 million in publicly funded scholarships—far outstripping the $5 million for the new scholarships for children with special needs and those in foster care. The report is available at www.ij.org/schoolchoice/az_specialneeds/1_2_07pr.html.
School choice opponents had asked the Arizona Supreme Court to take the case without it first going through the trial court. Now that the court has declined that request, opponents could re-file in trial court.
But Keller says that would be a mistake: “The court has already addressed these issues and upheld school choice as constitutional—and clearly sees no reason to reverse course now.”
“I hope this is the end of the road in this battle,” said parent and IJ client Jessica Geroux of Apache Junction. Jessica’s six-year-old son Tyler has been diagnosed with autism. “Families with children who have special needs should be free to seek out these scholarships without the fear of losing this wonderful choice option. The Supreme Court recognizing that parents know our children’s needs best and preserving the opportunity to choose their educational placement is a building block to the solid foundation we need as advocates for our children’s futures.”
IJ, the nation’s leading legal advocate for school choice, is currently defending Arizona’s corporate and individual tax credit scholarships and helped secure the Kotterman victory for school choice. The Institute also helped win a victory in the U.S. Supreme Court for school choice in Cleveland, and successfully defended vouchers in Milwaukee and tax credits in Illinois.