Monday, April 9, 2012

Judge rules vouchers unconstitutional in Oklahoma

Last week, a judge in Tulsa ruled that Oklahoma's private-school voucher program for special education students violate that state's Constitution.

This is interesting because of the judge's rationale, explained by reporter Nirvi Shah of Education Week magazine:

Reports by the Associated Press and Tulsa World say that Judge Rebecca Nightingale agreed with the school districts that the law violates an Oklahoma constitutional prohibition of public money being used directly or indirectly for any sectarian institution.

South Carolina's Constitution contains the same prohibition.

Two school districts sued parents of six children with disabilities last fall over the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships program. The scholarship program, created in 2010, initially required districts to administer the vouchers. Several districts refused to do so, and they were sued by parents. The districts eventually countersued.

While several states have voucher programs just for students with disabilities—a strategy some school choice advocates push for as a gateway to other voucher programs—Oklahoma's is one of just two that has faced legal challenges. Arizona's is the other.

Tuesday's ruling opens the door to an appeal to the Oklahoma Supreme Court. The parents' attorney, Eric Baxter of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty in Washington, said he will file an appeal. He told the Tulsa World he will also file a motion for a stay to keep the law intact until the appeals process is completed—149 students use the vouchers now—and a final ruling is rendered.

So, could the U.S. Supreme Court be called upon to rule on this matter in the next few years?

And if so, what are the odds that the Court will rule that public dollars proscribed for public uses in state constitutions must be used for public purposes only?

1 comment:

  1. South Carolina's Constitution is different than Oklahoma's; thus, the Oklahoma court's decision is not analogous to how a court would decide the case in SC. SC's constitution prohibits public funds from being paid "directly" to religious or private schools. Oklahoma's constitution prohibits public funds from being paid "directly or indirectly." SC's constitution of 1895 contained that same language. However, in 1972, the constitution was amended to drop the "indirectly" language for the express purpose of providing the General Assembly the discretion to provide "indirect" aid to those educational institutions.