Arizona Superintendent Keegan Joins Low-Income Families & Taxpayers In Defense of Education Tax Credit Program

John Kramer
John Kramer · October 6, 1997

Washington, D.C.—Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Lisa Graham Keegan and a group of taxpayers and economically disadvantaged families today filed a motion to intervene to defend the state’s Education Tax Credit Program, which, starting next year, will provide $500 state income tax credits for contributions to private school scholarship programs and $200 for contributions to public schools. Last Monday the Arizona Education Association (AEA) filed suit in the state Supreme Court challeng-ing the program. The intervenors are represented by the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Justice, which defends parental choice programs nationwide.

“That the union plaintiffs would forego millions of dollars in public school benefits to block this program makes it clear that educa-tion is not their top priority,” declared Clint Bolick, the Institute’s litigation direc-tor and lead counsel for the interve-nors. “We’re not about to let them block the schoolhouse doors for children who desperately need educational alterna-tives.”

Superintendent Keegan joined the action as part of her efforts to expand educational choices and promote educational equity for Arizona schoolchildren. The mother of three children in public schools, she plans to contribute $200 to her children’s school and $500 to a private scholarship fund.

The intervenors include five Phoenix families of modest financial means who send their children to private schools and who receive or plan to apply for scholarships: Emmett and Alfreda McCoy and their nine schoolchildren; Tanya Phelps and her two schoolchil-dren; Rita Samaniego and her three schoolchildren; Felipe Sandoval Sr. and his two schoolchildren; and Sally Shanahan and her four school-children. Other intervenors are Jeffry Flake and Trent Franks, inter-vening as taxpayers who plan to make donations to scholar-ship programs and have actively supported parental choice programs.

Intervening parent Felipe Sandoval, like other parents represented by the Institute for Justice, is increasingly concerned by the public schools’ overcrowding, lack of discipline, and social promotion. Sandoval said, “My children’s public school was more concerned about getting the children to pass into the next grade than they were about making sure that the students had graspedall the material they needed to learn. In second grade, my daughter had problems with math and especially with reading. She would bring papers home with good grades, but there would be many blank spaces and wrong answers. My daughter did not know the material, but the teacher just kept grading her as if she did.”

Although Sandoval and his wife must make a difficult financial sacrifices to send their children to private schools, he said his children know they now must truly learn the material to pass to the next grade.

The AEA lawsuit contends that the education tax credit violates the religious establishment provisions of the Arizona Constitu-tion and the First Amendment.

“This program is not about reli-gious establishment,” declared Bolick. “It’s about expanding educational opportunities for youngsters who desperately need them.”

Serving as local counsel for the intervenors are Samuel Cowley and Patrick Byrne of Snell & Wilmer in Phoenix and Richard W. Garnett of Scottsdale.

The Arizona Supreme Court has directed the state to respond to the lawsuit by October 24.