| April 3, 2013

Parental-choice ruling could have Oklahoma implications

In an important decision last week that could have national ramifications, the Indiana Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the nation’s most expansive school-voucher program (nearly two-thirds of Indiana students are eligible, according to The New York Times).

“This opinion may be an important turning point in the legal fight to expand school choice,” says Oklahoma City University law professor Andrew Spiropoulos, who also serves as the Milton Friedman Distinguished Fellow at OCPA.

It is not simply that the Indiana court has affirmed the constitutionality of the nation’s most expansive school choice program. What is particularly significant are the court’s reasons for rejecting the same array of state constitutional challenges deployed, often successfully, against school choice programs elsewhere.

For example, in rejecting the argument, under the state’s Blaine Amendment, that the school voucher program appropriated public funds “for the benefit” of religious institutions, the court held that “the proper test for examining whether a government expenditure violates” the constitutional prohibition against aid to religious institutions “is not whether a religious or theological institution substantially benefits from the expenditure, but whether the expenditure directly benefits such an institution. To hold otherwise would put at constitutional risk every government expenditure incidentally, albeit substantially, benefiting any religious or theological institution.”

Any program, then, that provides funding to parents to purchase educational services from the institution of their choice should pass constitutional muster. This [Indiana] opinion could prove particularly persuasive to the Oklahoma courts in any future case involving the interpretation of our state’s Blaine Amendment. Like Indiana’s provision, ours forbids any expenditures for the benefit of religious institutions. Programs that provide funding to parents, not schools, do not directly benefit religious schools and should not run afoul of this prohibition.

One hopes Professor Spiropoulos is correct. For as I pointed out in a recent magazine article — and as the video below makes clear — tax-funded scholarships are already changing the lives of special-needs students in Oklahoma.

Perhaps one day all Oklahoma parents will be able to choose the safest and best schools for their children.

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