Take Heart as Arizona Goes to Court Once More in Defense of Educational Freedom

Earlier this year Arizona broke down another barrier in the ongoing struggle for educational freedom by enacting the revolutionary “Empowerment Savings Accounts” for special-need students:

The state will deposit 90 percent of the student’s funds into an account parents can use for a variety of educational expenditures, including textbooks, therapy services, tutoring, and even tuition for alternative or online schools.

Not only does the money follow the student to serve their educational needs as the family chooses, but the families are encouraged to be wise consumers by the fact they can save money in their ESA from year to year. Any money left over at the end of high school can be used toward college expenses. Who wouldn’t like that?

Well, as education reform doctoral fellow Stuart Buck notes on the Flypaper blog, the Arizona School Boards Association, the Arizona Education Association and the Arizona Association of School Business Officials didn’t like the loss of control that comes with ESAs. They may even sense the 2011 legislation opens the door for more students and families to experience the liberation. So they filed a lawsuit that had its first hearing earlier this week. Buck breaks down the arguments and concludes:

…if the Arizona courts properly apply their own precedents, they will reject the attempt by powerful interest groups to stiff-arm special education students.

I certainly hope he is correct. In addition to interested Arizonans like the Boesl family, the state of Utah also has to be keeping a close eye on proceedings. I told you a couple months ago about a legislator from our neighbor to the west who was planning to introduce a dramatic, consumer-empowering proposal even more expansive than Arizona’s. The efforts in Utah can only be bolstered by a plain and positive vindication in the Arizona courts.

In The Grand Canyon State, these kind of anti-school choice legal actions seem to be a regular occurrence. Most recently, an effort to upend a tuition tax credit program was rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v Winn. Meanwhile, here in Colorado, the fight continues to appeal a district court injunction of the Douglas County Choice Scholarship Program — a groundbreaking, parent-friendly reform, the first school board-initiated voucher program in the nation.

Perhaps the point is that it doesn’t matter if you are helping kids and families by promoting School Choice 1.0 (vouchers) or version 2.0 (tax credits) or the cutting-edge version 3.0 (ESAs). Where power is threatened, attorneys will be hired by the status quo to try to strike the opportunity down. What encourages me on this Friday is to recall that school choice has won many battles in court and that the will of supporters to keep fighting these battles in defense of educational freedom remains as strong as ever.