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Arizona Supreme Court allows school choice program to stand

By   /   March 21, 2014  /   News  /   No Comments

Part 75 of 126 in the series Educating America

By Mary Tillotson | Watchdog.org

Arizona’s highest court has effectively ruled in favor of the state’s innovative education savings account program, allowing hundreds of students access to a flexible, tailored education.

“This is really exciting news for families in Arizona,” said Jonathan Butcher, education director for the Goldwater Institute, which had intervened in the lawsuit.Jonathan Butcher

Last fall, the state’s appeals court ruled in favor of the program, distinguishing it from a voucher program that was ruled unconstitutional in 2009. Opponents of the ESA program appealed, and the Supreme Court on Friday denied the appeal, allowing the lower court’s decision — and the program — to stand.

“If they had taken it, I would have been very confident that they were taking it to affirm the lower court and would have upheld the program as well,” said Tim Keller, attorney for the Institute for Justice, which intervened in the lawsuit on behalf of Arizona families. “Either wait the case had gone, it wasn’t like a good news (versus) bad news thing. I would have been very excited to go into court and defend it.”

“What’s tremendous is that the appeals ruling was so strong,” Butcher said. “The language in there really confirmed everything that we said about education savings accounts from the beginning. We’ve made the case that they are distinct from vouchers and the provision in the law makes them unique, and parents are not compelled to spend their money on any one thing.”

When the state Supreme Court struck down the voucher program in 2009, it found legal footing in the state’s Blaine Amendment, which prohibits public funds from aiding private schools, whether or not they’re faith-based. Families using vouchers were required to spend voucher money on private schools.

Families using ESAs receive a limited-use debit card and permission to spend that money on private school tuition, textbooks, tutoring, education therapy and other educational expenses. The money rolls over year to year and can be saved for college.

When the appeals court upheld the ESA program, it noted that parents don’t have to spend the money on private school tuition — and therefore, the program doesn’t violate the state’s constitution.

“The specified object of the ESA is the beneficiary families, not private or sectarian schools,” the appeals court’s opinion stated. “Depending on how the parents choose to educate their children, this may or may not include paying tuition at a private school.”

Butcher said he hopes other states will take the court’s decision as a cue to enact their own ESA programs.

“The life cycle of school choice programs is almost predictable,” he said. “It gets passed in the law, the union sues, the court decides, and if they decide favorably, other states start doing it.”

About 700 students are currently using Arizona’s ESA program, and state lawmakers are considering several bills that would expand the program to allow more students to participate. Currently, students with special needs, children adopted from the state foster system, children assigned to failing schools and children of active-duty military families are eligible.

Several states have considered enacting ESA programs, but so far none has passed.

“The ESA program is changing lives, and this decision … gives parents the peace of mind to know this program is going to be there in the future to help their kids,” Keller said.

Contact Mary C. Tillotson at mtillotson@watchdog.org.

This story was updated at 4:40 p.m. March 31 to add quotations from Tim Keller and note that IJ had also intervened on the case.

Part of 126 in the series Educating America
  1. Arizona mom won’t give up on special needs kids, no matter what state says
  2. Reviving a 1970s lawsuit, DOJ would keep black students in failing schools
  3. Relocating sexually abusive teachers would be more difficult under Pennsylvania bill
  4. DOJ backpedals on Louisiana voucher lawsuit
  5. Court says charter schools won’t pay for Atlanta’s pension debts
  6. Biggest education impact from shutdown? Furloughed bureaucrats
  7. Appeals court upholds Arizona school choice program
  8. Indiana’s voucher program expands; diversity a factor in one family’s choice of school
  9. ‘Vouchers don’t do much good for students’ claim is false
  10. NYC mayor’s race could affect school choice
  11. Vermont public school goes independent, raises ire from state bureaucracy
  12. Arizona education savings accounts aren’t vouchers, study says
  13. Legal institute fights Alabama union’s attempt to repeal school tax credit
  14. Experts: School choice improves education in public schools
  15. SC school-choice program helps special needs kids, could expand
  16. DOJ wants Louisiana parents out of voucher lawsuit
  17. U.S. House passes bill to prevent ‘passing the trash’
  18. ‘Non-traditional’ journalists barred from viewing tax-funded test results early
  19. New center hopes to help charter schools help kids with special needs
  20. Charter school advocate to Philadelphia schools: Listen to parents
  21. $45 million not enough for Philadelphia teachers’ union
  22. Study: Rhode Islanders support school choice
  23. Study: Choice would help failing Chicago schools
  24. Scholarships could lift SC school dedicated to real-life, hands-on learning
  25. Parents make good school choices, study says
  26. Divisive charter school reform bill headed toward vote in PA
  27. In Louisiana school voucher lawsuit, DOJ changes gears
  28. Opponents sue Washington to overturn charter school law
  29. School choice proponents’ challenge? Educating parents
  30. Judge: Federal oversight may not hamper school voucher program
  31. PA lawmakers push to amend tight teacher furlough policies
  32. College ready: A Milwaukee inner-city school success story
  33. Proposed economic furloughs could slay sacred cow of seniority in Pennsylvania schools
  34. What is Massachusetts doing right?
  35. Goldwater to appeal Louisiana school voucher decision
  36. Want to end poverty? Educate the kids
  37. Breakdown in Philly schools not only about the money
  38. North Carolina scholarship program on firm legal footing, attorney argues
  39. Philadelphia school district threatens charters
  40. Belief in student ability key to success at Milwaukee charter school
  41. Three things to know about Philadelphia’s school budget: Debt, pensions and safety
  42. Choosing to sue: Here’s a look at some 2013 lawsuits involving school choice
  43. Philly charter schools outperform district counterparts
  44. California students sue state over ineffective teachers
  45. Study: Public supports parent choice in education
  46. Under new management, Philly Renaissance Schools show growth
  47. New Orleans tops school choice index
  48. AZ to consider four school-choice expansion bills
  49. Florida family ‘blessed’ to be apart of scholarship program
  50. PA lawmakers put education at top of agenda in election year
  51. Louisiana: Feds ‘more interested in skin color than … education’
  52. Charter school for Philadelphia foster children will not be renewed
  53. Governor ties proposed PA education funding to targeted grants
  54. WA’s first charter school serves children, families of ‘extreme poverty’
  55. Vermont attempts to take independence from independent schools
  56. Philly stumbles on way to simplifying enrollment system
  57. Plan for Philly schools keeps charters in check
  58. Missouri ballot initiative would increase funding for public, private schools
  59. New York charter school focuses on family, community
  60. NC school vouchers on hold
  61. WI voucher bill would help special needs students denied open enrollment
  62. Philadelphia schools will end another year in red
  63. PA universities expect state, students to pick up tab on rising tuition
  64. Two ESA bills get House support in AZ
  65. Thousands rally to support New York charter schools
  66. California’s defense begins in Vergara trial
  67. Accountability or overregulation? Charter supporters split over Minnesota bill
  68. PA considers empowering universities to authorize charter schools
  69. Bill would make Florida students eligible for scholarships
  70. To test or not to test? Florida school choice proponents split
  71. Philly school district broke, but the pay is good
  72. Philadelphia charter school sues public school district
  73. Colorado Supreme Court to hear school voucher case
  74. Vermont to reconsider education funding formula
  75. Arizona Supreme Court allows school choice program to stand
  76. Massachusetts charter school bill revived
  77. Quality schools matter more than racial integration, black leaders say
  78. FL again takes up school-choice bill
  79. Choice Media’s videocast tackles host of education issues
  80. Ending teacher seniority rules beyond Philly requires legislative action
  81. New website helps Detroit parents choose schools
  82. Philly schools caught on funding merry-go-round
  83. Louisiana bill would coordinate school choice programs
  84. New D.C. charter school lottery eases but doesn’t eliminate waiting lists
  85. Federal bill attempts to help replicate high-quality state charter schools
  86. Philadelphia schools awaiting taxes from city, state
  87. ACLU alleges discrimination in 138 NJ districts
  88. MN anti-bullying bill could have unintended consequences
  89. Mississippi’s special needs bill to return next year
  90. Illinois considers three-year ban on virtual charter schools
  91. Violent Philly high school source of worry
  92. Auditors examining troubled Philadelphia school district
  93. Civil liberties organization sues to overturn anti-bullying law
  94. Legal conflict over teacher seniority in Philly heats up
  95. Academics, culture help mom choose private school
  96. PA cyber charter schools could be funded by state, not districts
  97. Arizona expands school choice program
  98. The sticky statistic of statewide charter school performance in PA
  99. Louisiana offers new vocational technical program
  100. Benefits are driving high personnel costs in Philadelphia schools
  101. Educators look to grow with expanding Hispanic demographic
  102. Philadelphia flexes muscle over charter schools
  103. Philly school district facing another bleak budget
  104. Andre Agassi dedicates Indianapolis charter school
  105. For PA and neighboring states, school spending and graduation rates don’t add up
  106. At long last, PA school buses could be getting a boost
  107. Arizona charter schools need funding fix, proponents say
  108. Progress reports for Philadelphia schools show uneven achievement
  109. Teachers union opposes ‘Bad Teachers’
  110. Governor’s plans to boost education funding falls short
  111. Georgia’s school-choice program draws legal challenge
  112. Missouri parents want more choice in education
  113. U.S. lawmakers to consider charter school bill
  114. Florida’s school choice expansion awaits governor’s signature
  115. PA charter schools may see drop in funding with new special education formula
  116. In Nevada, your child’s school records could cost $10K
  117. AG, lawmakers propose similar updates to PA charter school rules
  118. NC school voucher program gets temporary green light
  119. Philly school district’s lack of transparency frustrates families
  120. Bullying motivates many parents to home-school, attorney says
  121. Philadelphia City Council gambles to fund schools
  122. PA Supreme Court pushes forward charter school’s lawsuit against Philly
  123. Feds consider joining school choice game
  124. Florida’s new school choice law likely to spark others
  125. California teacher reform lawsuit sparks copycat, more likely to come
  126. School choice is popular — when parents know about it
  127. What can private schools learn from charters?


Mary was formerly a national education reporter for Watchdog.org.