Institute for Justice Vows to Defend Arizona’s Scholarship Tax Credits for Low-Income Students From Legal Attack

J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · September 19, 2006

Arlington, Va.—The Institute for Justice and its Arizona Chapter today pledged to defend Arizona’s scholarship tax credit program for low-income families from legal attack. The Arizona School Boards Association and American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona plan to file a lawsuit today in state court attempting to block the recent expansion of Arizona’s successful tax credit program to encourage corporate donations to scholarship funds that help poor families trapped in failing public schools attend the private school of their choice.

“This latest attack on school choice in Arizona—like the two before it—is doomed to failure,” said Tim Keller, executive director of the Institute for Justice Arizona Chapter, which will represent the Arizona School Choice Trust and parents seeking scholarships in defense of the program. In 1999, the Arizona Supreme Court upheld the state’s scholarship tax credit program, which now provides scholarships for more than 21,000 Arizona children through individual donations to scholarship funds. In March 2005, a federal district court upheld the same program from a second legal challenge and school choice opponents appealed. IJ successfully represented parents in defense of the program in both cases.

“The third time will not be the charm for school choice opponents in Arizona,” added Keller. “School choice is clearly constitutional in Arizona, and we will vigorously defend the rights of low-income families to choose the best schools for their children through Arizona’s scholarship program.”

According to news accounts, school choice opponents will claim in today’s lawsuit the corporate tax credit scholarships violate the Arizona Constitution’s Blaine Amendment, which the Arizona Supreme Court called a “clear manifestation of religious bigotry” in rejecting the first challenge to the state’s scholarship tax credit program. The ASBA and ACLU of Arizona also claim the program violates a separate provision of the state Constitution providing for the maintenance of public schools. But this provision says nothing about prohibiting additional educational programs that help parents who choose private schools. In fact, the Arizona Supreme Court noted that school choice programs “further the objective of making quality education available to all children within a state.”

“This frivolous lawsuit is nothing but a desperate attempt to thwart educational opportunity for low-income families,” said Chip Mellor, IJ president and general counsel. “The Arizona Supreme Court has already upheld the scholarship tax credit program, and there’s no sound legal reason to attack this expansion of the program.”

In addition to its work in Arizona, the Institute for Justice also helped win a victory in the U.S. Supreme Court for school choice, representing parents in Cleveland’s school choice program, and successfully defended vouchers in Milwaukee and tax credits in Illinois. IJ is also working to open Maine’s century-old school choice program to both religious and non-religious schools.