Georgia Parents Join Lawsuit to Stand Up for State Scholarship Program

J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · May 7, 2014

Atlanta—Today, the Institute for Justice (IJ) filed a motion on behalf of four Georgia families to intervene in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Georgia’s Scholarship Tax-Credit Program, which provides scholarships for children to attend private school for grades Pre-K to 12th grade. In intervening in the lawsuit, IJ’s motion ensures that the interests of the families who rely on the program are properly represented as the case proceeds. Included in today’s filings was also the Institute’s motion seeking to have the lawsuit dismissed.

“Georgia’s school choice program is one of the largest in the country for a reason: It gives thousands of Georgia parents an opportunity to find a school that best fits their kids’ needs without using a single cent of state funds,” said IJ Senior Attorney Tim Keller, who is the lead counsel in the case. “We’re confident that the case will be dismissed.”

Since its inception six years ago, the scholarship program has proven immensely popular. It currently provides scholarships to more than 13,000 students, making it the fourth largest school choice program in the country. The program is entirely funded by voluntary donations from individuals and businesses. Donations to the program are offset with a dollar-for-dollar tax credit, up to $1,000 for individuals, $2,500 for families, and $10,000 for businesses. Tax-credit-eligible donations are capped at $58 million annually and are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Georgians are so eager to fund the program that the tax credits disappear before the end of January.

The initial lawsuit, which was filed in April by four Georgia residents backed by the Southern Education Foundation, argues that the scholarship program violates the state constitution’s ban on providing public support to religious institutions. But the scholarship program supports families, not institutions. Moreover, 100 percent of the program funds are raised from private donors and given to parents to spend at a school of their choice—regardless of whether it is a religious or non-religious private school.

“Each year, the scholarship program helps more than 13,000 Georgia students attend a school that best fits their needs,” said IJ Attorney Erica Smith. “Giving parents a choice in how to educate their children isn’t unconstitutional. Rather, giving opportunity and choice should be the goal of good government.”

The Institute represents four Georgia families in the case. They include:

  • Robin Lamp, of Stockbridge, Ga., is a single parent whose two daughters, Haley and Hannah, attend Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy;
  • Ruthie Garcia, of Augusta, Ga., is also a single parent whose daughter and son, Sophia and Gabriel, attend Heritage Academy;
  • Teresa Quinones, of Lawrenceville, Ga., is a mother of three young children whose two oldest, Audri and Christopher, attend Notre Dame Academy, and;
  • Sonny and Lisa Seneker, of Macon, Ga., whose daughter, Sophie, attends First Presbyterian Day School.

Today’s intervention marks the 20th time the Institute for Justice has intervened on behalf of parents in a lawsuit about a school choice program. For more than 20 years, IJ has been the nation’s leading legal advocate for educational choice and has represented parents and children in defense of school choice programs nationwide. Significantly, IJ successfully defended tax-credit-funded scholarship programs that are similar to Georgia’s in both Arizona and Illinois. IJ is also currently defending school choice programs in Alabama, Colorado, New Hampshire and North Carolina.

“Across the country, school choice programs are giving parents the opportunity to decide which school is best to teach their children, just as it should be,” said Chip Mellor, IJ’s president and general counsel. “No one knows better than parents what type of education will best serve their children. School choice programs give parents the means to secure a quality education for their children.”

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