Voucher fans win a round but battle's not over
BY World's Editorials Writers
Saturday, November 24, 2012
11/24/12 at 4:04 AM
The Oklahoma Supreme Court's decision to toss a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of using public funds to send special-needs students to private schools is not the end of the controversy, despite what proponents of the law insist.
In fact, the high court's ruling addresses only a single, narrow legal issue: whether or not the plaintiffs, in this case two school districts, had standing to bring the lawsuit. Justices ruled that they did not.
The decision paves the way for other opponents of this misguided law to challenge it on the constitutional question, and there's every reason to think that will happen because so much is at stake.
In other words, this was only round one.
The Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship measure was passed by the Legislature several years ago and was billed as a means to provide students with disabilities with access to the type of education they need at private schools. Opponents - including many public school leaders - viewed it as the first of more voucher programs to come, which have the effect of taking funding away from public schools.
Union and Jenks school districts, after being sued for initially refusing to comply with the law, countersued the parents of five special-needs children in hopes of addressing the constitutionality issue.
The court ruled that the school districts did not sue the right people.
"The parents are clearly not the proper parties against whom to assert these constitutional challenges," the ruling says."
The justices also said that the school districts do not have standing because they "are not taxpayers themselves, whom this Court has long recognized have a right to challenge the illegal expenditure of public funds."
The court even indirectly indicated it wasn't addressing the constitutionality question. In the ruling, justices said the Legislature's action, "even if it is unconstitutional," doesn't violate the school districts' constitutionally protected interests because they are merely vehicles of the Legislature.
Despite the fact the court addressed only the standing issue, State Superintendent Janet Barresi and other proponents of redirecting public funds to private schools hailed the decision as a victory. The author of the measure went so far as to declare, "It's over. The program continues."
For now, perhaps. But plenty of people still believe public money should fund public schools. This is not the final word on the subject.
Original Print Headline: Round one