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OK Supreme Court, AZ ESA student make their case for choices in education

February 18, 2016

Earlier this week, the Oklahoma Supreme Court issued a ruling small on its face but large in its reach. The Court ruled the K-12 school vouchers that some 400 students with special needs use do not violate the state constitution.

In the Oklahoma Supreme Court opinion, Justice Joseph Watt writes, “We are also persuaded by the fact that all ‘State’ scholarship funds are paid to the parent or legal guardian and not to the private school. It is the parent who then directs payment by endorsement to the independently chosen private school (emphasis in the original).”

The case’s features should be familiar: opponents of empowering parents to choose how their children learn sued to take options away from eligible families, citing the state’s Blaine Amendment. Opponents filed similar lawsuits in Arizona against education savings accounts, and the Goldwater Institute, alongside the Institute for Justice and then-Superintendent John Huppenthal, successfully defended families.

This ruling comes at an auspicious time. Earlier this month, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin called on lawmakers to send her legislation to create education savings accounts. In her state of the state, Gov. Fallin said, “I’m 100 percent supportive of Education Savings Accounts. 100 percent…. Senator Clark Jolley and Representative Jason Nelson have legislation on this issue. Send it to me and let’s give students and parents a better chance for educational success than they have today.”

These accounts give parents more choices than school vouchers, which means the Oliver v. Hofmeister ruling bodes well for future account holders in case of a legal challenge.

Research finds high levels of satisfaction among participating education savings account parents in Arizona. Yet the research in favor of the accounts is not as compelling as what took place yesterday in the Arizona Senate building.

There, education savings account student Jordan Visser testified in favor of the accounts. Jordan started using an account in 2011, shortly after Arizona lawmakers passed the nation’s first such law. He struggles with mild cerebral palsy and has challenges with motor coordination and vision. After five years that included personal tutors in and out of the home and a variety of educational therapies, Jordan stood before the Senate Appropriations committee and explained why the accounts matter to him and have changed his life.

His testimony is available online (around the 2 hour and 33-minute mark) and shows tremendous development in a young man who used an account to customize his education.

Oklahoma policymakers can read the state supreme court ruling in favor of parental choice in education and check the research on education savings accounts—or just watch Jordan give the performance of his young life. Then they should make Oklahoma the sixth state in the U.S. to give children the chance to learn how and where they need to using education savings accounts. 



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