IJ & Parents to Defend Arizona’s New School Choice Programs—Again

J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · February 20, 2007

Arlington, Va.—After being rebuffed by the Arizona Supreme Court in January, opponents of school choice are expected to announce yet another legal attack on school choice for special needs and foster children today. The Institute for Justice and its Arizona Chapter will again intervene on behalf of parents and children to defend the programs.

“It’s astonishing that opponents of school choice are again attacking programs that simply give disadvantaged children broader educational opportunities,” said Tim Keller, executive director of the Institute for Justice Arizona Chapter. “The state’s highest court rejected their first case, and with good reason. The court has already ruled that the Arizona Constitution permits programs that give parents the right to choose the best school for their child.”

Arizona’s new Scholarships for Pupils with Disabilities Program began last fall. Private schools are currently registering to accept students through the Displaced Pupils Choice Grant Program, and foster children can begin using scholarships this fall. Each program is capped at $2.5 million.

The ACLU Foundation of Arizona and People for the American Way first challenged the programs in November, asking the Arizona Supreme Court to bypass the trial court and take the case directly. In January, the court refused. IJ also intervened to defend parents in that case.

The state’s highest court first ruled on school choice in 1999 when it upheld individual tax credits for donations to scholarship granting organizations. In Kotterman v. Killian, the court considered arguments made by opponents of Arizona’s newest school choice programs and rejected them. The court wrote that because school choice aids students, and not the schools they happen to choose, religious or non-religious, it does not violate the state Constitution’s Blaine Amendments. And the court reaffirmed that the Arizona Constitution permits the inclusion of private schools in the “mix of educational opportunities” available to schoolchildren.

Indeed, a recent study found that Arizona already has at least six educational aid programs for children who choose private and religious schools, including programs for children in foster care and students with disabilities. Those six voucher programs serve more than 22,000 students a year, totaling nearly $22 million in publicly funded scholarships. The report is available at www.ij.org/schoolchoice/az_specialneeds/1_2_07pr.html.

“I am extremely disappointed that this is another roadblock parents have to face in order to simply choose where our children go to school, and it’s especially disheartening that opponents are attacking a program that will help children with special needs get the education that’s best for them,” said Jessica Geroux of Apache Junction, Ariz., whose six-year-old son Tyler has been diagnosed with autism.

IJ is also defending Arizona’s new corporate tax credit scholarships from a legal challenged filed by the ACLU of Arizona. The Maricopa County Superior Court will hear oral arguments in that case on Monday, March 5.