School choice advocates received great news in March when Arizona’s Federal District Court dismissed Winn v. Hibbs, the Arizona Civil Liberties Union’s (AzCLU) frivolous legal challenge to Arizona’s pioneering Scholarship Tuition Tax Credit.
In granting the Institute for Justice Arizona Chapter’s (IJ-AZ) motion to dismiss, the district court not only struck a blow for the rule of law, but handed the thousands of parents and children who rely on scholarships a well-deserved victory.
For IJ-AZ’s client Pastor Glenn Dennard, this ruling ensures that his five children will remain safely ensconced in the schools best suited to their needs. Pastor Dennard, speaking of his oldest daughter, said, “We refused to send her to any of the neighborhood public schools because of the inadequate education the local schools offer.” And so he sacrificed and found a way to send her to private school. But without the tuition scholarships, Pastor Dennard’s other four children would be unable to attend private school.
And there is still more to do, because this Winn-win improves the prospects of expanding the current tax credit program. Arizona’s scholarship tuition organizations, such as IJ-AZ’s other client Arizona School Choice Trust, still have hundreds of families on waiting lists.
This session, the Arizona Legislature twice passed tax credit bills that would have allowed corporations to receive dollar-for-dollar credits for money they donated to scholarship-granting organizations. Despite the growing body of social science data demonstrating the benefits of choice, Governor Janet Napolitano unfortunately vetoed the first bill—which capped the total donations at $55 million per year—as soon as it hit her desk. Fortunately, the Legislature took the measure back to the drawing board and reached a compromise with the Governor that allowed the passage of a corporate tax credit capped at $5 million per year, allowing the Scholarship Tax Credit program to expand its reach to as many as 1,500 additional students per year.
With the district court’s solid ruling in Winn upholding the constitutionality of school choice, we can once again quiet reform opponents’ rhetoric that choice programs violate the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.
The reality is that school choice is the only education reform proven to result in real improvements for all our children’s learning environments—both for students who choose to attend private schools and for students who remain in public schools. While the teachers’ unions continue to promise improvement if only they are provided more money (never mind that those improvements never materialize and that there is no link between per-pupil funding and student achievement), school choice delivers a quality education today.
The AzCLU and its allies, whose interests lie not with improving our children’s education but in protecting the public education monopoly, should abandon any further legal challenges. Instead, we should get on with the business of true education reform. Arizona is already a national leader in school choice, but we can and must do more because our children deserve nothing less.
Tim Keller is executive director of the Institute for Justice Arizona Chapter.