Arizona Governor to Sign Lexie’s Law To Save Scholarships for Special Needs and Foster Children

J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · May 29, 2009

Arlington, Va.—Thanks to the Arizona Legislature and Gov. Jan Brewer, Arizona schoolchildren with special needs and those in foster care have new hope for a quality education.  Today, the governor will sign Lexie’s Law, which saves the private school scholarships these children had relied on by expanding an existing tax credit program.  The Arizona Supreme Court had put the students’ educational futures into doubt when it struck down voucher programs that provided scholarships to attend public or private schools.

Families who rely on scholarships will join the governor in a special signing ceremony today at 9:30 a.m. in the second floor conference room of the Executive Tower at 1700 W. Washington Street in Phoenix.

“Lexie’s Law will help children in need stay in schools that are working for them while opening the same educational opportunities to other special needs and foster children,” said Tim Keller, executive director of the Institute for Justice Arizona Chapter, which defended the original scholarship programs in court on behalf of parents and children.  “We thank and applaud the governor and the many legislators who worked so hard to ensure that children like Lexie Weck can continue to receive a quality education in the school of their parents’ choice.”

Lexie’s Law was named for Lexie Weck, a seven-year-old girl with autism, cerebral palsy and mild mental retardation who relied on voucher program to attend the Chrysalis Academy, a small private school in Tempe that specializes in working with autistic children.  Andrea Weck, Lexie’s single mom, was one of the parents who joined with the Institute to Justice to defend the program in Court.  Andrea will attend the signing ceremony.

“I am incredibly grateful that the legislature and governor moved so quickly to save the scholarships my daughter and hundreds of other children rely on,” said Andrea.  “Attending a school that meets her needs has changed Lexie’s life, and I am honored that the legislature named this program after my beautiful little girl.”

The bill expands an existing program that allows corporations to donate funds to non-profit school-tuition organizations that provide private school scholarships.  The expansion is capped at $5 million and will save state funds because the scholarships are less than public school spending for each child.  Indeed, fiscal analyses of the existing program indicate that it saves the state money.

“Arizona’s political leaders acted quickly to save these scholarships because they know that school choice works for children and taxpayers, just as lawmakers in states nationwide are recognizing,” said IJ President Chip Mellor.

Unfortunately, school choice opponents, including state teachers’ unions, have already suggested that they will once again oppose scholarships for special needs and foster children by challenging the tax credit expansion in court.  The Institute for Justice vowed that it will defend the law.

“It would be both shameful and foolhardy for school choice opponents to once again oppose giving an educational lifeline to children with special needs and those in foster care,” said Keller.  “Arizona Supreme Court and federal precedent are crystal clear that tax credit programs are constitutional.”

Indeed, in the voucher ruling, the Arizona Supreme Court did not question the continuing vitality of its 1999 Kotterman v. Killian decision, which upheld the state’s individual tax credit scholarships against a similar legal challenge.  And the existing corporate tax credit program was recently upheld by an Arizona appeals court.  In a second challenge to the individual tax credit program, a three-judge panel of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently questioned whether allowing scholarship organizations to provide scholarships to only religious schools is constitutional, but that ruling is at odds with U.S. Supreme Court precedent and is being appealed to the full appellate court.