ACLU Applauds Arizona Supreme Court Decision Striking Down School Voucher Program
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
PHOENIX – The ACLU of Arizona applauds today’s decision by the Arizona Supreme Court striking down two state-funded voucher programs as a violation of the so-called “Aid Clause” of the Arizona Constitution.
Article 9, section 10 of the Arizona Constitution, also known as the “Aid Clause,” expressly states that: “no tax shall be laid or appropriation of public money made in aid of any church, or private or sectarian school, or any public service corporation.”
In its 21-page opinion, the court ruled that the voucher program undermines the state’s public school system by creating an educational system that is not uniform and by diverting tax dollars from public to private and church-run schools.
“The framers plainly intended that Arizona have a strong public school system to provide mandatory education,” wrote Justice Michael D. Ryan. “The Aid Clause furthers this goal by prohibiting appropriation of funds from the public treasury to private school.”
At issue are two statutes that were enacted by the Arizona Legislature in 2006. They authorize the state to pay tuition at religious and other private schools for a limited number of children. In November 2006, the ACLU of Arizona joined parents and educators in filing a lawsuit arguing that the statutes violate provisions in the Arizona Constitution that prohibit state funding of religious and other private schools. In May 2008, the Arizona appeals court agreed with the ACLU and other plaintiffs in the case, including the Arizona Association of School Business Officials, Arizona Education Association, Arizona Federation of Teachers, Arizona PTA, Arizona Rural Schools Association, Arizona School Administrators Association and Arizona School Boards Association.
“Voucher schemes offer the illusion of ‘choice,’ when at best, they increase the opportunities for only a handful of children who will be carefully selected by private and religious schools that have the luxury of deciding whom they want to admit,” said Alessandra Soler Meetze, executive director of the ACLU of Arizona. “Fundamental fairness demands that we improve our public schools for every child instead of targeting just a few.
“Now that the issue of the constitutionality of the Arizona voucher scheme is over, it is time for the Arizona Legislature to go back to the drawing board and develop real education reforms, rather than relying on a program that undermines the public school system and forces taxpayers to finance religious institutions whose beliefs they may not share,” Meetze added.
Through litigation, public education and legislative lobbying, the ACLU has opposed voucher programs in several states across the country including Ohio and Florida, arguing they unconstitutional force taxpayers to fund religious schools and strip much-needed tax dollars ways from neighborhood public schools. In fact, the ACLU was directly involved in the litigation striking down the voucher program in Florida. In that case, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the voucher program undermines the state’s public school system by creating an educational system that is not uniform and by diverting tax dollars from public to private and church-run schools.
Today’s opinion is available on-line at: http://www.supreme.state.az.us/opin/pdf2009/Cain%20Opinion%20CV080189PR.pdf
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