In 2010, the Oklahoma legislature passed an act to pay the tuition of disabled children in nonpublic schools, including religious schools.
The U.S. Constitution bars government support of religion.
However, the U.S. Supreme Court allows governments to launder payments to religious schools by passing them through the hands of parents.
A public official writes a check for a tuition payment to a parent, but the check can be cashed only after the parent endorses it to a private school.
The Oklahoma law instructed local school districts to administer the program.
Four districts resisted.
“The voucher system that was put in place is going to be taking significant money from public schools,” said Cathy Burden, Superintendent of the Union, Oklahoma School District.
“It not only isn’t in the best interest of all children in our public schools, it violates the tenets of our state constitution,” she told the Tulsa World in September.
The Oklahoma constitution says,
“No public money or property shall ever be appropriated. applied, donated, or used, directly or indirectly, for the use, benefit, or support of any sect, church, denomination, or system of religion, or for the use, benefit, or support of any priest, preacher, minister, or other religious teacher or dignitary, or sectarian institution as such.”
As of November 2011, the state had approved 42 private schools to get cash via vouchers, and 40 were religious.
In April 2011, voucher-seeking parents sued the four dissident school districts in federal court. The Jenks and Union school districts countersued and asked the court to declare the law unconstitutional.
In August, the state legislature tried to avert the suit. It transferred administration of the program from school districts to the state education department.
The federal judge advised the parents to claim their vouchers from the state education department.
She told the school districts to take their constitutional complaint to state court.
In September, Jenks and Union asked a state court to find the vouchers unconstitutional.
In November, the parents dropped their suit.
Douglas Mann, the school districts’ lawyer, said he viewed the parents’ withdrawal as a victory, but the districts’ constitutional challenge will continue in state court.
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a Religious Right legal group, backed the suit of the voucher-seeking parents.
As Jenks Superintendent Kirby Lehman told the Tulsa World, the Becket Fund’s agenda is to obtain taxpayer funds for religious education.