We have long urged judges to honestly apply the state and federal constitutions to cases that come before them, rather than invent fanciful interpretations to carry out political agendas or to craft new policies that should be determined by the other branches of government.
So we certainly can't complain when a state appeals court does just that to strike down two programs that we believe offer important and valuable reforms to public education.
Last week, the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled private tuition scholarships for disabled students and for children in foster care violate a provision of the state constitution that forbids the use of tax dollars to aid private or religious schools. In 2006, the Legislature set aside $5 million to assist disabled children and those in foster care who are struggling in public school and could learn better in a private setting.
These programs were immediately challenged by a collection of advocacy groups who correctly viewed these limited scholarships as a preliminary step to a broader school voucher program open to most, if not all, Arizona school children. We are proud to be among those school choice advocates who believe state education funding desperately needs reform so that parents pick the best options, public or private, for students instead of being forced to accept the dictates of government bureaucracy.
But we recognized in an editorial on Nov. 19, 2006, that the state constitution poses a significant obstacle to creating school vouchers or private tuition scholarships. The appeals court reached that conclusion as well.
"Only by ignoring the plain text of the Arizona Constitution prohibiting state aid to private schools could we find the aid represented by the payment of tuition fees to such schools in this case constitutional," the court's opinion says.
Supporters for the private scholarships have vowed to appeal the case to the state Supreme Court. But we repeat our call from 2006 for the school choice movement to make its goals truly legal, instead of trying to wedge them under the courthouse door with fanciful interpretations.
Unlike the U.S. Constitution, changes to Arizona's founding document are relatively common. The Legislature refers amendments to voters every two years; others are brought to the ballot box through initiative petition drives.
School choice advocates have such a powerful argument for change that they should be asking the public to directly and actively embrace these reforms in the state constitution.