Friday, March 1, 2013

Voucher Suits from All Over

Vouchers Via Bogus Charter School

The Douglas County, Colorado school board established its own voucher plan.

First, it created a bogus charter school: a single district employee in an office.

The fake charter school enrolled children already accepted at private schools and then delegated their education to the private schools. Practically all of the private schools advanced religion throughout their programs.

The charter school then sent tuition checks to the private schools. Officials made out the checks to parents, but nobody could cash them, until the parents endorsed them to the private schools.
Each check paid 75% of the state funds allotted to the district for the child’s education. The district kept the other 25%.

County resident James LaRue sued, backed by the American Civil Liberties Union.

In August 2011, Colorado District Judge Michael Martinez struck down the scheme.

He ruled that the vouchers violated five different provisions of the Colorado constitution, as well as two statutes.

Martinez halted the program days before the first voucher students were to enter private schools.
The county had already sent tuition payments to the private schools. As of April 2012, the county still hadn’t got all the tuition money back.

The district appealed. The Walton Family Foundation, a Religious Right group, and the The Daniels Fund, a voucher advocacy group, are paying the district’s legal bills.

In November 2012, the Colorado Court of Appeals, a mid-level appeals court, heard arguments.
EdNews Colorado described the debate.

Judge Jerry Jones noted that the so-called charter school giving out the vouchers had no buildings, teachers or textbooks
He asked the district’s lawyer, Eric Hall, “Well, there isn’t a building…in what sense is it a school?’
“It was used by the district as an administrative convenience, we’ve always said that,” replied Hall.
Judge Steven Bernard followed up, “If it’s not a school, why call it that?”

Judge Dennis Graham asked whether the plan, which would send county students to both religious and non-religious private schools wasn’t therefore neutral.

Hall said it “neither favors nor disfavors any private schools.” All the private schools must sign the same contract and abide by the same conditions.

LaRue’s attorney, Matt Douglas, disagreed. He said the participating schools were allowed to reject students who didn’t meet their entrance requirements and students had to take part in the schools’ religious programs.

The case is LaRue V. Colorado.


Challenge to New Hampshire Tax Credit

In June 2012, the New Hampshire legislature overrode the governor’s veto to pass a tuition tax credit law similar to the N.Y. State bill described on p. 1.

Under the act, a business that donates money to a tuition scholarship organization may credit 85% of the donation against its state income tax BILL.

The scholarship organizations, usually religious, pass on the cash as tuition to nonpublic, usually religious schools.

In effect, the state directs the income tax payments of donors to religious schools.

In January 2013, eight New Hampshire residents, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Americans United for Separation of Church and State challenged the act as a violation of the state constitution.
Part 1, Art. 6 of the state constitution says,“No person shall be compelled to pay towards the support of the schools of any sect or denomination.”

Part II, Art. 83 says, “No money raised by taxation shall ever be granted or applied for the use of the schools or institutions of any religious sect or denomination.”

The case is Duncan v. New Hampshire.


Judge Nixes Raid on School Fund

In November, Louisiana District Judge Tim Kelley struck down a state voucher act because it pays nonpublic schools with funds dedicated for public schools by the state constitution.

The Louisiana constitution names the dedicated fund the “Minimum Foundation Program” (MFP).
The state appealed directly to the Louisiana Supreme Court, and the voucher program will continue at least until that court rules.

Even if the Louisiana Supreme Court agrees with Judge Kelley, the legislature may find other ways to pay for the vouchers.

The Louisiana Federation of Teachers (LFT), the Louisiana Association of Educators (LAE), and the Louisiana School Boards Association (LSBA) challenged the act.

The case is LFT v. Louisiana.


School Boards: AZ Act May Harm Disabled Kids

The Arizona Education Empowerment Act (EEA) grants cash for disabled youngsters to buy lessons at private schools, including religious ones.

To get grants, parents must waive their children’s Arizona constitutional right to a public education.
In 2011, public school groups and a parent sued to overturn the EEA.

In October 2012, The National School Boards Association (NSBA) submitted a brief highlighting the potential harm to a disabled child whose parents have waived the right to a public education.

The brief says, 

“Under the Arizona Program the child would be affirmatively barred from returning to a public school regardless of whether the parent, subsequent to the acceptance of the voucher, was to realize that the private school no longer served the interest of his/her child, or to discover fraud, misrepresentation or even unintentional misinformation about the educational services or the quality of education.…”

Under the EEA, parents who home school or otherwise hold down education costs may pay for college with the saved dollars.

The Arizona Constitution says, “No tax shall be laid for the appropriation of public money made in aid of any…private or sectarian school.…and “No money…shall be appropriated for or applied to any religious…instruction.”

In January 2012, an Arizona county court upheld the EEA, on the ground that money reaches the religious schools indirectly, after passing through the parents’ hands.

The plaintiffs have appealed.

The case is Niehaus v. Huppenthal.

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