AZ Supreme Court strips school vouchers from parents

Patrick Gibbons

The Arizona Supreme Court, citing the state's Blaine Amendment — the bigoted anti-Catholic constitutional amendment adopted by several states in the late 19th century — has struck down two parental choice voucher programs.

The Institute for Justice, in defending the voucher programs, noted that the voucher money was given to parents who then decided which school was best for their child. The voucher made no distinction between secular and religious schools because the choice was given to the parents. Despite this distinction, opponents of parental choice have sought to use the legacy of religious bigotry to destroy the program.

Sadly, the voucher programs were for students with disabilities and foster care children. While public schools spend thousands of dollars on sub-par programs for children with disabilities, the school systems also regularly use children with disabilities as a scapegoat for system-wide failure. Foster care children (like low-income children) are also used as scapegoats, since they often have to move from school to school and rarely have a stable home life. Both programs offered scholarships for these students to attend a school of their parents' choice, offering much needed help and stability.

The biggest irony about the court's decision is the fact that the State of Arizona permits education bureaucrats to use taxpayer dollars to send children with disabilities to private schools. Arizona's Supreme Court utterly failed to reconcile this fact with its decision. The only difference between the state's program and the voucher program is "who chooses." Thus, sadly, the court has ruled that bureaucrats, not parents, have a right to make the choice on what school a child attends.

Meet Andrea Weck, single working mother of Lexie, a 6-year-old girl with autism, cerebral palsy and mild mental retardation. When the 2008-09 school year ends, Lexie — the judges decided — must lose her voucher and return to the public school that has already failed to provide her an education that made her and her mother happy. This video about Lexie reveals how the voucher program helped change her life.

Fortunately, Arizona's tax-credit programs are safe and will continue next year. This setback in Arizona need not stop Nevada from moving forward with real progressive education reform. The U.S. Supreme Court in 2002 held in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris that an Ohio voucher program where the vast majority of the participating private schools were religious still was religiously neutral, because the low-income parents who received the state funding chose freely among participating religious schools, participating private secular schools and public schools. Here in Nevada, Sen. Barbara Cegavske has a bill to help students with disabilities attend a school selected by their parents, while Assemblyman Ed Goedhart has proposed a universal education tax-credit program.