Arlington, Va.—As the Arizona Supreme Court prepares to consider the first-ever legal challenge against school choice programs for children with special needs and those in foster care, the Institute for Justice released today a new report detailing little-known voucher programs that for years have offered public aid to needy Arizonans to spend on the service provider of their choice—public, private or religious—just like school choice programs.
In fact, even before the two newest school choice programs, Arizona already operated at least six separate educational aid programs for students in public, private and religious schools. And two of them specifically support children in foster care and students with disabilities. Those six voucher programs currently serve more than 22,000 students a year, totaling nearly $22 million in publicly funded scholarships—far outstripping the $5 million allotted for the new scholarships for children with special needs and those in foster care.
“This report exposes the lawsuit filed by school choice opponents as nothing but an attempt to use the courts to stop a policy they dislike,” said Tim Keller, executive director of the Institute for Justice Arizona Chapter. The Institute for Justice represents five Arizona families who intervened to defend the new programs. “For decades, Arizona has offered public aid in the form of vouchers that recipients, including students of all ages, can spend at the public, private or religious provider of their choice. But all of a sudden school choice opponents say that’s unconstitutional in Arizona. They couldn’t be more wrong.”
“If Arizona’s many other voucher programs are constitutional, why aren’t publicly funded scholarships for children in foster care and students with disabilities?” asked IJ’s Director of Strategic Research, Dr. Dick M. Carpenter II, who authored the report with policy analyst Sara Peterson.
The full report, “Private Choice in Public Programs: How Private Institutions Secure Social Services for Arizonans,” is available online at www.ij.org.
The Arizona Supreme Court will consider next Tuesday, January 9, whether to hear the legal challenge filed against the new school choice programs by the ACLU Foundation of Arizona and People for the American Way. Those groups claim the Arizona Constitution’s Blaine Amendment and education provisions prohibit any public support of families who freely choose private religious or non-religious schools. IJ explains in its brief why that argument is inconsistent with Arizona legal precedent, and this new report shows why it is inconsistent with reality: Arizona already offers public aid to students in private religious and non-religious schools, as well as numerous other social services.
“School choice for children in foster care and those with disabilities is a modest addition to Arizona’s long-standing and sensible policy of providing choice to those in need,” added Carpenter. “Choice-based programs are efficient and effective and involve community organizations in delivering much-needed assistance.”