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A Hollywood-Style Happy Ending To First Round of Arizona Voucher Litigation

By Tim Keller

I love summer movies.  Especially the big-budget superhero flicks because you always know that justice will prevail.  On June 13, one of Arizona’s biggest summer blockbusters ended with the Institute for Justice prevailing—and we could not have scripted a better ending.  IJ’s legal team won an important first-round victory in the ongoing school voucher battle.

Just one week after oral arguments were heard, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Bethany Hicks issued a decisive ruling upholding Arizona’s two voucher programs for two of Arizona’s most vulnerable classes of school children—those with disabilities and those in foster care.  She declared in no uncertain terms that the programs do not violate the Arizona Constitution.

The ruling means that both programs will continue to operate while the case is appealed.  That is great news for our clients’ children because their new private schools are already proving to be huge improvements over their unsatisfactory public school experience.

For example, since starting at the Tempe-based Chrysalis Academy, Andrea Weck’s daughter, Lexie, has developed not only academically, but socially as well.  Lexie was diagnosed at an early age with cerebral palsy, autism and mild mental retardation, but made little progress in public school.  It warms Andrea’s heart to see Lexie begin to interact and play with her twin and younger sisters.  Andrea is certain that Lexie will continue to flourish in the care and tutelage of her private school teachers.

However, as satisfying as the victory is, the uncertainty fostered by the education establishment’s promised appeal makes our clients feel like they are trapped in a horror film.  I have never liked horror movies.  The reason is that no matter how thoroughly or convincingly the villain is defeated you can always count on the lure of box office receipts to resurrect even the most gruesome monster in a sequel.

The Arizona Education Association (AEA) and their assorted allies fighting to preserve the educational status quo, who are motivated by fear and economic self-interest rather than the interests of students, continue to resurrect the ugly specter of religious bigotry manifested by Arizona’s Blaine Amendments.  Fortunately, the Arizona Supreme Court has, for decades, refused to expand the Blaine Amendments beyond their plain language.  Although the Constitution would prohibit the state from directly funding parochial schools, it does not prohibit aid programs that involve true private choice of parents.  Neutral state aid programs that neither disfavor or favor religious institutions, and that leave the decision of where to use the aid entirely in the hands of private individuals, do not violate the Arizona Constitution.

The constitutional construction the AEA urges is one of blatant religious discrimination.  Fortunately, Arizona courts have four times rejected school choice opponents’ efforts to rewrite our state constitution.  There is no reason to believe that they will be successful in convincing the appellate courts to abandon or overturn existing precedent in their latest lawsuit.

And while Hollywood superheroes battle evil on the silver screen, the real life heroes at the Institute for Justice will fight for individual liberty in the courts of law—and while we are at it we just might stand up for truth, justice and the American way.

Tim Keller is executive director of the Institute for Justice Arizona Chapter.

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