Arizona and National Education Advocates Urge Arizona Supreme Court to Uphold Scholarships for Special Needs and Foster Children

J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · December 2, 2008

Phoenix—In five briefs filed before the Arizona Supreme Court, Arizona and national education advocates and legal experts urge the state’s highest court to uphold state scholarship programs that offer educational opportunity to special needs and foster children.  A sixth brief demonstrates the void in needed services for special needs children and the problems parents face in obtaining such services through the public schools.

“From a variety of perspectives, these education and legal experts make clear that school choice works for special needs and foster children in Arizona—and is entirely consistent with the Arizona Constitution,” said Tim Keller, executive director of the Institute for Justice Arizona Chapter, which represents families who benefit from the scholarships.  Keller will argue on their behalf before the Arizona Supreme Court on December 9.

More information on this case is available online at

Chrysalis Academy Parents AssociationDownload Brief

The Chrysalis Academy Parents Association of Tempe includes parents who rely on the challenged scholarship program, as well as parents whose children were placed at the school by public school officials—a program not being challenged by school choice opponents.  Indeed, nearly all children at the private school, which specializes in educating children with autism and related disorders, rely on state funding through one of these programs.

Authored by Chandler attorney George King, the Parents Association’s brief demonstrates that, from a constitutional perspective, it makes no difference whether parents or public school officials place children in a private school.  In both cases, state aid benefits the child not the school and is therefore constitutional.  The brief also demonstrates how the scholarship program gives parents of special needs children much-needed educational options in addition to public schools, which all too often fail to provide the necessary services required under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Arizona Autism Coalition and Pacific Legal FoundationDownload Brief

The Arizona Autism Coalition is an organization of groups and families affected by challenges surrounding autism services in Arizona.  In a brief written by the Pacific Legal Foundation, a nonprofit legal foundation with a track record of defending education reform, the Coalition argues that “changing economic conditions and societal goals throughout the nation demonstrate that choice in education is necessary for Arizona’s most vulnerable children.”  The brief cites social science research on a scholarship program for special needs children in Florida, similar to Arizona’s program, that demonstrates that scholarship parents find that the private schools they choose are better at providing promised special education services than the public schools they left.

Father’s Heart Christian School and Alliance Defense FundDownload Brief

Father’s Heart Christian School in Tucson was founded by parents of special needs children frustrated in their attempts to secure needed services for their children in the public schools.  Through the scholarship program, they are able extend the promise of a quality education to other families.  In a brief filed with the Alliance Defense Fund of Scottsdale, Father’s Heart traces the history of the religion clauses in Arizona’s Constitution to the anti-Catholic Blaine Amendment movement of the 19th-century and demonstrates that the intent of these provisions is to prohibit direct, institutional aid to private schools.  By contrast, the Arizona Constitution does not prohibit aid to individuals who exercise private choice as to where to use their state benefits—such as parents freely choosing where to use a scholarship from an array of religious and non-religious schools.

Center for Arizona PolicyDownload Brief

The Center for Arizona Policy, a nonprofit public policy and legal organization, emphasizes that it is the Legislature’s role, as policy maker, to debate and decide whether to provide parents with expanded educational options for special needs children.  The group’s brief demonstrates that there is nothing in the text or history of the Arizona Constitution or in Arizona’s legal precedent to suggest that the Framers of the Arizona Constitution intended to curtail the Legislature’s ability to enact innovative education programs like the scholarship programs challenged in this case.

National Education Reform GroupsDownload Brief

A coalition of national organizations dedicated to education reform, including the Alliance for School Choice, American Legislative Exchange Council, Black Alliance for Educational Options, Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, and the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options filed a brief “to emphasize the real-world consequences of this case for the thousands of Arizona families who lack the means to provide their disabled or displaced children with appropriate educational opportunities.”  The brief draws upon social science research to demonstrate why Arizona’s scholarship programs are necessary to provide the opportunity for a quality education to these two vulnerable groups of students.

Arizona Center for Disability LawDownload Brief

The Arizona Center for Disability Law filed a brief demonstrating that “many students attending public schools in Arizona do not receive the special education and related services they are entitled to under federal and state law.”  In their brief they state, “In the more than 30 years the Center has advocated for special needs children, it is clear that many of these children have been, and continue to be, deprived of needed services in public schools throughout the state.”  While the brief does not take a position in the case, it clearly demonstrates a void in special education services delivered only through the public schools.