Arizona parents will be able to continue to use state tax dollars to send their children to private and parochial schools — at least for the time being.
The state Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to consider a challenge to the nearly year-old program filed by two national groups who contended that the state’s first voucher programs are unconstitutional.
Tuesday’s decision does not mean the vouchers — essentially checks drawn on the state treasury payable to these private schools — are legal. It simply means the high court, asked directly two months ago to void the law, has decided not to short-circuit the normal legal process.
Instead, challengers now will have to take their case directly to Maricopa County Superior Court for a trial.
Whoever loses at that level is expected to appeal, eventually landing the case back before the Supreme Court.
But that process could take years.
Despite that, attorney Tim Keller, who represents supporters of the voucher program, called the decision a victory, saying a trial helps those who support “school choice.”
Don Peters, representing the American Civil Liberties Union and People for the American Way, said he does not believe a court trial weakens his case. But Peters said he was hoping to bypass all that and get a ruling on the central legal issues.
One section of the state constitution bars the use of public funds “in aid of ... any private or sectarian school.” And a separate section specifically says: “No public money or property shall be appropriated for or applied to any religious worship, exercise or instruction.”
Last year, lawmakers adopted the first two limited voucher programs.
One provides $2.5 million for vouchers for children with physical, emotional or learning disabilities; a second gives an identical amount for up to 500 foster children.
Peters said it amounts to the use of state tax dollars to support private and parochial schools. And backers have acknowledged that if the legality of these programs are upheld, they will seek to allow even more parents to have tax vouchers to send their children to private schools.
Keller acknowledged the constitutional prohibition. But he said these vouchers are legal because it is the parents of the children who decide where to use the vouchers, not the state.