Media Statement: Arizona School Voucher Programs Ruled Constitutional

Published June 15, 2007

(Chicago, Illinois – June 14, 2007) On Wednesday, June 13 an Arizona Superior Court judge ruled the state’s 2006 special-needs and foster-care voucher programs constitutional. The statement below is from Robert Holland, senior fellow for education policy at The Heartland Institute. You are free to reprint this statement in full or in part. If you have questions or comments, please e-mail Holland at [email protected] or call 703-901-6745.

For more information about The Heartland Institute, please contact Harriette Johnson, mainstream media specialist, e-mail [email protected]. or call 312/377-4000.

“The latest victory for school choice in Arizona came when Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Bethany Hicks ruled June 13 that the voucher programs established last year by the state’s elected leaders for special-needs and foster-care children are constitutional.

“The Institute for Justice, the school choice legal advocates who helped win the historic U.S. Supreme Court case (Zelman, 2002) upholding vouchers under the U.S. Constitution, represented six Arizona families who came forward to defend the new scholarship programs.

“The foes of choice alleged the programs enabling children to find the help they need in private or parochial schools violate the Arizona Constitution’s Blaine Amendments and its educational provisions.

“The Blaine language, still found to varying degrees in the constitutions of 37 states, is a relic of nineteenth-century activism aimed at excluding Roman Catholic schools from the advantages that Protestant schools enjoyed.

“It is ironic that organizations claiming to be defenders of academics’ rights, civil liberties, and The American Way are seeking to capitalize on constitutional provisions with such a discriminatory pedigree to keep needy children from having expanded opportunities.

“In rejecting the Blaine argument, Judge Hicks cited the precedents of Zelman at the federal level and Arizona Supreme Court decisions, including its upholding in Kotterman v. Killian (1999) of Arizona’s first tax credit scholarship program.

“Perhaps the futility of their mighty swings against special-needs and foster-care children, plus the gathering momentum behind voucher programs for such students, will convince the foes of choice to concentrate their wrecking work elsewhere.

“One big target already is clear: The National Education Association is a major player in a campaign in Utah aimed at overturning the nation’s first universal voucher law in a public referendum this November.

“That battle figures to be closely fought. But even should the rejectionists manage to repeal the general voucher program that the state legislature adopted in February, Utah still would be among the leaders in special-needs vouchers. Already, 40 private schools in Utah have established their eligibility to accept children bearing vouchers of up to $6,285, thanks to the Carson Smith special-needs program adopted in 2005.

“When he signed a special-needs scholarship into law on May 18, Gov. Sonny Perdue made Georgia the fourth state since the launch of Florida’s John M. McKay program in 1999 to embrace vouchers as a lifeline for children with diverse disabilities who are not being well-served in their assigned public schools.

“More states soon may follow Florida, Ohio, Utah, Arizona, and Georgia. The Alliance for School Choice reports lawmakers have filed bills to create special-needs scholarships in more than a dozen states this year.

“The enemies of school choice fear that special-needs scholarships will be an opening wedge to choice for all families. That is not necessarily so. Vouchers are an effective way to target help to needy populations, such as the disabled or the impoverished or the underachieving.”