Victory for School Choice in Alabama

J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · March 3, 2015

Arlington, Va.—In a nearly unanimous decision this evening, the Alabama Supreme Court held that the Alabama Accountability Act does not violate the Alabama Constitution. The decision means that the thousands of children who are currently benefiting from the Alabama Accountability Act can remain in the superior schools their parents have selected for them.

The Court rejected all ten legal claims brought by the plaintiffs—supported by both state and national teachers’ unions—in reversing the lower court’s decision and deciding in favor of both the state and the several parents who intervened in defense of the school choice program. Represented by the Institute for Justice, Tequila Rogers, Mark and Danyal Jones, Rachell Prince, Tyrone Whitehead, and Dalphine Wilson fought to ensure that their children could continue to take advantage of the life-changing opportunity created by the Alabama Accountability Act.

“Today’s decision is a resounding victory for Alabama parents and students,” said Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Bert Gall, who argued in defense of the program before the Alabama Supreme Court in December. “The Alabama Supreme Court definitively stated that school choice is constitutional. This is a decisive loss for the Alabama Education Association and others who oppose giving true educational choice to all Alabama families who desperately need it.”

The Court’s decision closes the book on the unions’ repeated attempts to defeat the Alabama Accountability Act, which first began in March 2013. There can be no appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court because the Alabama Supreme Court is the final arbiter on the meaning of the state constitution. With the legal threat to the program eliminated, supporters of the program can rest assured that the program will continue to save children from failing schools for years to come.

In rejecting the plaintiffs’ argument that the Alabama Accountability Act improperly benefitted religious schools, the Court held that: “[T]he AAA as a whole ensures that any aid that may ultimately flow to a religious school … will do so only as a result of the private decisions of individual parents rather than flowing directly from the State.”

“The Alabama Supreme Court’s decision extinguishes any doubt regarding the constitutionality of school choice in Alabama,” said IJ Senior Attorney Dick Komer. “The Court’s determination today is the latest in a series of cases upholding school choice across the nation, demonstrating that there is nothing unconstitutional about providing children with real educational opportunity.”

Today’s decision is not only consistent with Alabama’s Constitution, it also recognizes the importance of providing parents with a real opportunity to ensure their children receive a quality education so that they can realize their full potential.

The Institute for Justice has a long history of successfully defending school choice from legal attacks. IJ represented intervening parents in the successful defense of:

  • New Hampshire’s Business Tax Credit Scholarship Program, Duncan v. State of New Hampshire;
  • Indiana’s Choice Scholarship Program, Meredith v. Daniels;
  • Arizona’s Empower Scholarship Account, Niehaus v. Hoppenthal;
  • Arizona’s individual Scholarship Tax Credit and Corporate Scholarship Tax Credit Programs, Ariz. Christian Sch. Tuition Org. v. Winn, Kotterman v. Killian, and Green v. Garriott;
  • Ohio’s Pilot Scholarship Program, Zelman v. Simmons-Harris and Simmons-Harris v. Goff;
  • Milwaukee’s Parental Choice Program, Jackson v. Benson;
  • Illinois’ Educational Expenses Tax Credit Program, Toney v. Bower and Griffith v. Bower.

“Alabama’s Accountability Act is about refusing to accept failing schools as the status quo and providing Alabama families with true educational opportunity,” said Chip Mellor, the Institute’s president and general counsel. “Now that the Alabama Supreme Court has held the program is constitutional, more families will be able to take advantage of both the refundable tax credits and scholarships, and realize a better future.”