IJ Aggressively Defends School Choice in Arizona
By Tim Keller
Last month, Arizona’s freedom cavalry once again rode in to defend school choice from legal attack in the Grand Canyon State. This latest legal challenge, filed by the ACLU of Arizona, the Arizona School Boards Association, and the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest, is the third lawsuit filed in Arizona by school choice opponents and the most frivolous lawsuit ever filed against a parental choice program.
IJ-AZ executive director Tim Keller and clients Stella Gomez, Cecilia Hernandez and Kerin Zimmerman.
The challenged program expands the State’s successful individual tuition tax credit program to allow corporations to donate to school tuition organizations. The money raised by the corporate tax credit is exclusively for tuition grants to low- to moderate-income families whose children are transferring from public to private schools. The program is capped at $10 million in the first year.
IJ successfully defended the individual tax credit in 1999. In that case (Kotterman v. Killian), the Arizona Supreme Court declared in no uncertain terms that tax credits do not violate the state or federal constitutions. Because this new lawsuit recycles most of the same arguments made in Kotterman, IJ immediately filed a motion to dismiss the case along with our motion to intervene. Joining IJ in the defense of the program is former Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Zlaket, who authored the Kotterman decision.
IJ represents four scholarship-eligible families and the Arizona School Choice Trust, one of the scholarship-granting organizations. IJ client Stella Gomez is leading the charge. Her daughter Dorine has brittle bone disease and had to leave her beloved St. Gregory Elementary School because of financial hardship. The teachers and students at St. Gregory used to watch over Dorine and protect her in ways that her new public school will never match. As Stella explained, “Dorine should not have to pay such a high price while I am trying to get back on my feet financially.”
IJ is deploying every tool at its disposal to win the war for educational freedom. When we filed our legal papers, we simultaneously released two policy papers debunking myths the ACLU and its allies are spreading. IJ’s new Director of Strategic Research, Dick Carpenter, studied all of Arizona’s tax credits and found that the corporate tax credit is a mere 4.5 percent of the total credits taken in 2003 and just one-third of one percent of all income tax revenues collected by the State. In a year when Arizona’s public school funding increased $480 million, claiming that this one tiny program jeopardizes public schools is absurd.
IJ also released a fiscal analysis of the corporate tax credit program by Vicki Murray, an independent education analyst, which forecasts that the program will save Arizona’s general fund $57 million over five years.
Arizona’s two new voucher programs for students with disabilities and those in foster care also appear to be in our opponents’ crosshairs. A prominent school choice opponent requested that the State’s Attorney General halt implementation of the voucher programs. It is unlikely the Attorney General will acquiesce, but it is a strong signal that the education establishment is preparing a legal challenge. IJ is gearing up to defend these programs as well.
The legal antics of choice opponents underscore the fact that they will stop at nothing to protect the existing education system from meaningful reform. Fortunately, IJ’s legal team is ready to ride in at a moment’s notice to defend school choice.
Tim Keller is executive director of the Institute for Justice Arizona Chapter.