Parents Defending Scholarship Programs For Special Needs and Foster Children File Final Brief with Arizona Supreme Court

J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · November 25, 2008

Phoenix—Parents defending their right to choose the best available public or private school for their special needs and foster children today filed their final legal brief with the Arizona Supreme Court, arguing that the state’s innovative school choice programs are constitutional.  The Arizona Education Association and the ACLU of Arizona, among other groups, are challenging the programs.  In May, the Arizona Court of Appeals issued a decision in Cain v. Horne striking down the programs—even though school districts have been placing special needs children in private schools for decades.

“Arizona’s school choice programs are providing a quality education to hundreds of children with disabilities and foster children once denied the opportunity to succeed,” explained Tim Keller, executive director of the Institute for Justice Arizona Chapter, who will argue the case in the Arizona Supreme Court on behalf of parents.  “We are confident that the Supreme Court will overrule the appellate court and reaffirm Arizona’s longstanding legal and policy history of supporting educational options for families.”

In a landmark 1999 case, Kotterman v. Killian, the Arizona Supreme Court upheld Arizona’s individual scholarship tax credit program, which funds private school scholarships, and explained that school choice programs are constitutional in Arizona because it is parents and children who are the “primary beneficiaries” of the programs and not private schools.

Moreover, Arizona school districts place hundreds of students in private schools every year because government officials decide that is the best way to provide those students with the educational services they need.  The school districts pay the private school’s tuition, with public funds, in order to obtain the educational services for the children.  The challenged programs merely allow parents to make the same private placement decision as school districts.

“Arizona’s school choice programs put parents in charge of their children’s education,” said Andrea Weck, one of the parents intervening in the case.  Andrea’s daughter Lexie attends the Chrysalis Academy where nearly all of the students are publicly funded—half thanks to the challenged scholarship programs; the other half were placed in the school by education bureaucrats.  “If there is nothing wrong with school districts choosing private schools for children with disabilities, then how can allowing parents like me the same choice be illegal?”

“Arizona is a model of educational choice and innovation and has demonstrated that school choice works,” said Chip Mellor, IJ’s president and general counsel.  “The Arizona Supreme Court must act swiftly to vindicate the challenged programs by rejecting the teachers’ unions’ baseless legal claims.”