Oklahoma Supreme Court Throws Out Challenge to Special-Needs Scholarship Program
Rachel Sheffield –
Last Tuesday, Oklahoma’s special-needs students received a pre-Thanksgiving win. The state’s Supreme Court ruled that two school districts that had challenged the legality of the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship Program—a voucher program for special-needs students—were out of line in bringing the lawsuit.
The school districts had challenged the scholarship program on the basis that it violated the state’s Blaine Amendment by allowing scholarship money to be used at religious schools. Other opponents of school choice programs have time and again brought similar claims to the courts.
Eric Baxter of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty said that the Supreme Court’s decision in this case “is a great victory for both religious freedom and the disabled.”
“Let’s hope the school districts drop their paranoia that allowing disabled kids to go to a private religious school of their choice somehow creates an official state church for Oklahoma,” said Baxter. “The message from the Supreme Court today is unequivocal: These school districts should stop spending taxpayer dollars suing their most vulnerable students and focus on what they are supposed to be doing—teaching kids.”
Oklahoma’s Henry Scholarship Program is the state’s first private-school choice program. With the scholarships, families can send their children to schools of their choice, whether they are religious or secular.
Since the program’s implementation in 2010, dozens of students have benefited from it. Participation has increased dramatically since the program’s first year, when just 10 scholarships were granted, to 160 students receiving scholarships in the 2011–2012 school year.
Chloe, who was diagnosed with autism at age three, is one of these scholarship recipients. Because of the program, she is able to attend a private Catholic school, which, as her parents explain in the video above, has been a lifesaver for Chloe as well as for their family.
School choice programs are spreading nationwide—from places like Washington, D.C., where the Opportunity Scholarship Program allows low-income students scholarships to break free from failing public schools, to Indiana, which now has one of the largest school choice programs in the country. School choice means that students like Chloe—and hopefully all students one day—will have the greatest opportunity for the best education possible.