October 4, 2018

IJ’s educational choice team closed out the summer with a bang. In the last issue of Liberty & Law, we described IJ’s defense of a brand new educational scholarship program in Puerto Rico. Since then, IJ won that case at the Puerto Rico Supreme Court—setting a record for our fastest high court victory! Thanks to this victory, 10,000 children will be able to go to schools that meet their individual needs.

Our success in Puerto Rico could not have come fast enough. Puerto Rico’s public schools are the worst in the country—filled with violence, demoralized teachers, and dismal test scores. Twenty-six percent of students report carrying a weapon to school, and only 7 percent are proficient in math. Add last year’s hurricanes into the mix, and the school system was on the verge of collapse. Responding to the pleas of desperate parents, Puerto Rico’s Legislature enacted a voucher program in March. Every year, the program will award 10,000 scholarships to low-income parents, giving them the ability to enroll their children in the private or public school of their choice.

Thanks to this victory, 10,000 children will be able to go to schools that meet their individual needs.

There was one hitch. Back in 1994, Puerto Rico’s Supreme Court declared school choice unconstitutional. According to that opinion, choice programs violate the Puerto Rico Constitution’s prohibition on using public funds to “support” private schools. Wielding that opinion as their sword, the teachers’ unions immediately sued to shut down the new program.

But just as quickly, IJ jumped into the fray, and we pushed the case to the Puerto Rico Supreme Court in just three months. We dug historical evidence out of the archives to show that the drafters of the 1952 Puerto Rico Constitution intended to allow school choice. We also relied on our educational choice victories over the last 24 years to convince the Court that its 1994 decision was now outdated and wrong on the law. The Court agreed and upheld the program on August 9. When we shared the news with our client, mother Jessica Ñeco, she cried tears of gratitude.

This case is the 11th state or territory supreme court victory IJ has secured for educational choice—and we may have 12 very soon. Any day now, we expect a decision from the Montana Supreme Court in IJ’s case defending Montana’s new tax-credit scholarship program. IJ also launched two new cases in August that seek to uproot a longstanding legal obstacle preventing the spread of educational choice. 

We will keep filing and winning cases on behalf of parents and children until every family has the freedom to choose the best school for its children, regardless of income or ZIP code.

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