Monday, April 21, 2008

Goldwater Institute: Court of Appeals Should Reject Latest School Choice Challenge

Fighting for Lexie

By Tim Keller

The fate of Lexie Weck's education is in the hands of a three-judge panel. The Arizona Court of Appeals will hear arguments Wednesday, April 23, in the nation's first-ever legal challenge against publicly funded scholarships for children with disabilities and children in foster care.

Lexie is a six-year-old girl with autism and cerebral palsy, who uses a scholarship to attend the Chrysalis Academy where she is flourishing. A year ago, she was in a public school making little progress.

The teachers' unions' recycled argument against the scholarships is that Arizona's constitution prohibits the use of public funds to support parents who choose private schools, a claim rejected by the Arizona Supreme Court in its landmark Kotterman v. Killian decision (upholding Arizona's scholarship tax credit). However, this case is not about the constitution. It is about preserving the status quo.

Public school officials regularly place children with disabilities in private schools at state expense. For example, school districts have placed 12 students at the Chrysalis Academy. In other words, the unions have no problem with state officials placing students like Lexie at a private school-and using public funds to pay the tuition-but if Lexie's mom makes the decision they object.

The unions have run to court to halt a policy they do not like, but there is simply no valid legal or policy reason to take away Lexie's scholarship. The scholarships represent a modest addition to Arizona's sensible policy of providing educational services through choice-based programs for those most in need-and a critical lifeline for children like Lexie.

Tim Keller is the executive director of the Institute for Justice Arizona Chapter. He will argue in defense of the programs on behalf of six Arizona families who intervened in the lawsuit to protect the scholarship programs.

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