Arizona passed a series of new school choice bills this June, and the ACLU has now filed suit to stop one of them from being implemented. For more than six years, individual Arizonan taxpayers have been able to claim a dollar-for-dollar tax credit on donations they make to private Scholarship Granting Organizations (SGOs). The SGOs, in turn, help families to pay tuition at the independent school of their choice. The recent bill that the ACLU is challenging extends that donation tax credit to businesses as well as individuals.
On what grounds does the ACLU claim to oppose this policy, you ask? They assert that “it violates state constitutional provisions prohibiting public funding for religious schools and mandating that the state provide a general and uniform public school system.”
The first objection is not likely to hold water, given that the AZ Supreme Court already ruled, in Kotterman v. Killian, that tax credits do not constitute public funding.
The second challenge is more interesting, having been inspired by the astonishingly inventive Florida Supreme Court ruling that struck down that state’s A+ voucher program early this year. Will foes of educational freedom find this argument a winner in AZ? Not knowing much about the AZ Justices, it’s hard to say. The argument certainly did not work with Wisconsin’s Supreme Court when it was used against Milwaukee’s voucher program during the 1990s.
What’s most interesting about all this is, however, is not the details of the legal arguments but the fact that opponents have been reduced to arguing about such minutia. In states where school choice programs are established and running, they tend to be very popular with the families who are able to participate. Hence, opponents find it hard to convince people that choice is bad – they have to try to show that some legal “i” has gone undotted to have any hope of herding the public back into state monopoly schools. In the Florida case, the plaintiffs openly acknowledged that the success of the voucher program was utterly immaterial to their argument.
Opponents of school choice don’t care whether or not educational liberty helps families. They are ideologically wedded to the status quo monopoly and will seek to preserve it by any means necessary.
How this benefits the American people, or advances “civil liberties,” I really can’t imagine.