Arkansas Mothers Intervene to Defend Education Freedom Accounts Program Against Lawsuit

Dan King
Dan King · June 20, 2024

ARLINGTON, Va.—Today, the Partnership for Educational Choice—a joint project of the Institute for Justice (IJ) and EdChoice—announced it will be representing Arkansas mothers Erika Lara, Katie Parrish, and Nikita Glendenning as they defend the state’s popular Education Freedom Accounts program against a newly filed lawsuit. 

“Before I received my Education Freedom Account, my son was being bullied and struggling academically, but now I have the resources to put him into a school where he’s thriving,” said Erika. “Taking away this program would put my son’s academic and social progress in jeopardy.” 

The Education Freedom Accounts program, which was created in 2023 as part of the LEARNS Act, provides eligible families with up to $6,856 to cover certain educational expenses. Currently, eligible students include students with a disability, students experiencing homelessness, current or former foster care children, the children of military members, the children of first responders, and more. Over time, all children in the state will be eligible. Qualifying educational expenses include tuition and fees, curriculum, supplemental materials, school uniforms, technology, tutoring, and therapy.  

“Parents have a constitutional right to choose the education that best suits their children’s needs, and the Education Freedom Accounts program gives parents the resources they need to make these choices,” said IJ Attorney Joe Gay. “If the lawsuit against the program is successful, thousands of Arkansas children will lose the ability to access the education they need and deserve.” 

Erika and Katie both already use the program, and Nikita would like to use the program when eligibility expands. Erika is a single mother of two boys. Her older son is on the autism spectrum. When he entered sixth grade, he started to struggle. The public school he had attended was much bigger, he was being bullied every day, and his needs were not being met in that setting. Halfway through sixth grade, Erika received an EFA and began using it to send her son to St. Theresa Catholic School in Little Rock. Katie also has a son with autism. She uses her EFA to send her son to Arrows Academy, a microschool that provides specialized instruction and therapy for children with autism. Nikita homeschools her two younger children, so that she can provide them with individualized instruction based on their interests and needs. She wants to use the program next year when eligibility expands to help support and enhance her homeschooling efforts. 

“Despite repeated court rulings that these types of programs are constitutional, opponents of educational choice continue to attack these programs,” said Ed Choice Vice President and Director of Litigation Thomas M. Fisher. “We look forward to defending this program and making clear that it is constitutional.”   

The Education Freedom Accounts program has become popular since its passage. Last school year, more than 6,000 applications were submitted to participate in the program and nearly 5,000 students actively participated in it. More than half of Arkansas voters with a child in K-12 school have favorable opinions on the program. 

The Partnership for Educational Choice, which launched in late 2023, is a project of IJ and EdChoice. For more than three decades, IJ has been the nation’s leading law firm defending educational choice programs and expanding educational access and opportunity. Since its founding in 1991, it has successfully represented parents in educational choice lawsuits in numerous state supreme courts, intermediate courts of appeal, and trial courts, as well as four times at the U.S. Supreme Court (Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v. Winn, Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, Carson v. Makin). During that time, EdChoice has been the premier organization providing critical research and educational information to stakeholders working to expand educational choice throughout the country. In late 2023, it added a litigation arm, EdChoice Legal Advocates, to its portfolio.   

Local counsel in this case is W. Whitfield Hyman of the King Law Group, PLLC. 

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