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3 Cases, 3 Courts, 2 Weeks: Unprecedented Level of Courtroom Activity Defending School Choice Nationwide

The defense of liberty never takes a holiday. In the days leading up to Thanksgiving, and in the weeks that follow, IJ attorneys will be crisscrossing the country to defend a variety of school choice programs. In each case, IJ represents parents and children who have intervened in legal challenges brought by the defenders of the educational status quo, such as teachers’ unions, school board associations and state affiliates of the ACLU. The education establishment’s goal is to preserve the public school monopoly. IJ’s goal is to protect the right of every parent to direct the education and upbringing of their children—including the right to choose the school that best suits each child’s unique educational needs.

The action begins in Denver on Monday, November 19, when IJ Washington Chapter Senior Attorney Michael Bindas and I will be at counsel table for oral argument in front of the Colorado Court of Appeals. We seek to overturn a state trial court judge’s eleventh-hour decision from August 2011, that blocked the Douglas County School District’s Choice Scholarship Program from going into effect. The ruling followed a three-day hearing that included testimony from one of IJ’s clients and left nearly 500 students scrambling to find an educational placement. We will present a compelling argument for why the lower court decision must be overturned.

Two days later, IJ Senior Attorneys Bert Gall and Dick Komer will be in front of the Indiana Supreme Court to defend that state’s Choice Scholarship Program. Indiana’s statewide program provides scholarships to low- and middle-income families. When it is fully implemented, more than 60 percent of Indiana’s school children will be eligible to participate. Bert will share time at the podium with the state’s solicitor general to explain why a recent lower court decision upholding the program should be affirmed.

The week after Thanksgiving, IJ-WA Executive Director Bill Maurer, IJ Senior Attorney Dick Komer and IJ-TX Attorney Arif Panju will travel to Baton Rouge for a multi-day trial to defend Louisiana’s “Act 2,” which expands opportunities for parents to choose the school that best meets each child’s learning style. The response to Louisiana’s school choice program has been overwhelmingly positive, with nearly 5,000 scholarships awarded, including 2,000 renewals from families participating in a similar, preexisting New Orleans program.

Meanwhile, in my home state of Arizona, Dick Komer and I await an oral argument date in the Arizona Court of Appeals in a case about Arizona’s cutting-edge Empowerment Scholarship Account program. In January, a state trial court judge upheld Arizona’s program, which permits eligible families to open a publicly funded education savings account and to use the funds deposited therein for a wide range of educational expenses, including any combination of tutors, private online education, private school tuition and even college tuition.

There has not been a single day in IJ’s 21-year history when we have not been defending a school choice program somewhere in the nation. This holiday season is no exception. But in a testament to the growing popularity of school choice, this Thanksgiving we will be defending four programs at the same time—an IJ first. If we are as successful as we hope and expect, families all across this country will have a lot more to be grateful for: a quality education for more and more children.

Tim Keller is executive director of IJ’s Arizona Chapter.

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