Share & Connect
A Maricopa County Superior Court judge last week rejected a lawsuit challenging Arizona’s landmark Empowerment Scholarship Accounts Program, the first-of-its-kind private school choice program that benefits special needs children.
The American Federation for Children—the nation’s voice for school choice—praised the ruling as a victory for parents, students, and education reform advocates. The lawsuit, brought forth by the Arizona School Boards Association and the Arizona Education Association, will likely be appealed, according to lawyers arguing on behalf of the program.
The Empowerment Scholarship Accounts Program grants education savings accounts to eligible parents of students with special needs. Parents can use those funds for a host of educational purposes, including tuition, tutoring, and school supplies. There are currently 142 students enrolled in the program.
“The real winners here are the parents and the children who are benefiting from this groundbreaking school choice program,” said Betsy DeVos, chairman of the American Federation for Children. “It is long past time for special interests to cease challenging laws that empower parents and give hope to disadvantaged children.”
In her ruling, Judge Maria Del Mar Verdin said that “the exercise of parental choice among education options makes the program constitutional,” also noting that ESAs allow parents to choose how and when all of the scholarship amounts are spent. Opponents claimed that the program violates the “Aid Clause” and the “Religion Clause” of the Arizona Constitution.
The victory is the most recent in a long line of successful court rulings in favor of expanded educational options. Last April, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of Arizona’s Individual School Tuition Organization Tax Credit Program, and earlier this month, an Indiana judge rejected a lawsuit that aimed to halt the statewide voucher program.
Enacted last year, the Empowerment Scholarship Accounts Program is the fourth private school choice program operating in Arizona. The Grand Canyon State is currently one of only two states in the country with four publicly funded private school choice programs.