Written by Don Byrd
In a unanimous ruling yesterday the Arizona Court of Appeals upheld the state’s education funding mechanism that allows parents of students with disabilities to spend public money on private school tuition, including religious education. Plaintiffs challenged the law, citing Arizona’s constitutional prohibition on funding for religion, but the court rejected that argument.The religious element of the education, the court seems to say, is only an incidental feature of the educational choice.
Judge Jon Thompson, writing for the court, said the fact that it is the parents who decide the use of the funds, designated as “empowerment scholarship accounts,” makes who ultimately gets the dollars irrelevant.
“The ESA students are pursuing a basic secondary education consistent with state standards,” he wrote. “They are not pursing a course of religious study.”
And Thompson said the vouchers do not result in the state encouraging the preference of one religion over another, or religion over atheism.
“The specified object of the ESA is the beneficiary families, not private or sectarian schools,” Thompson wrote.
You can read the opinion here.
UPDATE: 3/21/2014: The Arizona Supreme Court announced it would not review the Appeals Court’s ruling in this case, leaving the program in place.