Act swiftly to remove constitutional ban on vouchers - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Act swiftly to remove constitutional ban on vouchers

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Posted: Wednesday, March 25, 2009 11:29 am | Updated: 2:02 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

OUR VIEW: The Arizona Supreme Court ruling Wednesday that school vouchers violate the state constitution clearly is a setback for the movement to give parents more control over educational options.

But the best response from school-choice advocates would be to accept this outcome as a challenge to build the type of widespread public support that’s necessary to amend the constitution.

The Arizona Supreme Court ruling Wednesday that school vouchers violate the state constitution clearly is a setback for the movement to give parents more control over educational options.

But the best response from school-choice advocates would be to accept this outcome as a challenge to build the type of widespread public support that’s necessary to amend the constitution.

School voucher law is illegal, court rules

Proponents made valiant efforts to keep alive two vouchers programs to aid disabled students and children in foster care after the Legislature first approved them in 2006. Advocates sought to build a staunch defense for the courts, and then rallied last year to pressure state officials to save the $5 million in funding after lawmakers and then-Gov. Janet Napolitano tried to cut the money.

But we have noted on these opinion pages for more than two years that private school vouchers violated the plain language of Article 9, Section 10, commonly called the “aid clause”: “No tax shall be laid or appropriation of money made in aid of any church, or private or sectarian school ...”

A unanimous state Supreme Court made it clear Wednesday that no amount of word twisting in state statute or by lawyers could bypass what the constitution’s framers intended.

“For all intents and purposes, the voucher programs do precisely what the Aid Clause prohibits,” the court’s ruling says. “These programs transfer state funds directly from the state treasury to private schools. That the checks or warrants first pass through the hands of parents is immaterial ...”

On Dec. 8, we pointed out that this kind of ruling would raise a new host of questions about other programs where public funds flow to private schools, such as when local school districts contract for individual instruction of severely disabled students and when higher educational scholarships are used to attend private colleges. The Supreme Court’s definitive opinion could lead to unfortunate results completely unintended by those who fought to block the voucher programs.

That should create even more urgency for a substantive debate about the future of Arizona education, starting with a proposed constitutional amendment to reverse this ruling. School-choice advocates should get that debate under way quickly so this movement can get on the right track again.

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