PHOENIX — Education-reform advocates won a key victory today, with a judge upholding the constitutionality of Arizona’s first-in-the-nation education savings accounts.
The Maricopa County Superior Court rejected a legal challenge by the Arizona School Boards Association and the Arizona Education Association against the accounts, known formally as empowerment scholarship accounts (ESAs).
“Though this is only the opening round of a protracted legal battle, it is gratifying to start with a victory for the kids,” declared Clint Bolick, vice president for litigation at the Goldwater Institute, who argued on behalf of the Institute before Judge Maria Del Mar Verdin.
ESAs were proposed by the Goldwater Institute as a way to expand educational opportunities, and were adopted by a bipartisan majority of the Arizona Legislature for disabled schoolchildren in 2010. For eligible children who leave the public schools, the state provides 90 percent of their per-pupil funding in an account that can be used for a wide variety of educational purposes, including private school tuition, tutoring, distance learning, community college classes, and educational software.
The Arizona Supreme Court struck down school vouchers in 2009, holding that because they could only be used for private school tuition, they were impermissible aid to private and religious schools. Judge Verdin noted that ESAs, by contrast, can be used by parents to fund various services from multiple entities. “The exercise of parental choice among education options makes the program constitutional,” she concluded.
The Goldwater Institute has called for expansion of the program to children who are enrolled in poor-performing public schools.
Although an appeal is inevitable, Bolick said, “We wish the school boards and teachers’ union would call off the attack dogs and direct their resources toward education rather than litigation.”
In addition to the Goldwater Institute, the program is defended by Attorney General Tom Horne and the Institute for Justice. The decision comes in the middle of National School Choice Week.