State Supreme Court rejects challenge to scholarship program
BY KIM ARCHER World Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 20, 2012
The Oklahoma Supreme Court on Tuesday threw out a constitutional challenge by two school districts of a law that allows the use of public funds to send special-needs students to private schools.
In the two years that the law has been in effect, it has stirred controversy over whether it violates the state constitution's ban on the use of public funds for private sectarian institutions.
"I applaud the Oklahoma Supreme Court's decision today to discontinue the challenge to the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship program," State Superintendent Janet Barresi said in a written statement. "This is a victory for students with disabilities throughout our state and for their families. This also is a victory for education choice in Oklahoma."
The case began last year when Union and Jenks countersued the parents of five special-needs children to challenge the constitutionality of the law.
In Tuesday's ruling, the state Supreme Court said the school districts do not have standing in the case because the "school districts are not taxpayers themselves, whom this Court has long recognized have a right to challenge the illegal expenditure of public funds."
"Because the school districts are not the ones charged with the duty to provide free public education, the Legislature's withholding of certain funds, even if it is unconstitutional, does not violate a constitutionally protected interest of the school districts themselves, because they are merely the Legislature's vehicle," the ruling said.
In June, Tulsa District Court Judge Rebecca Nightingale ruled that the law was unconstitutional but left it intact until an appeal was considered.
Attorneys for The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty in Washington, D.C., later filed an appeal with the state Supreme Court on behalf of the parents of the five special-needs students who accepted the scholarships.