In the span of three months, IJ will have defended four very different school choice programs in front of three state supreme courts: Alabama, Colorado and North Carolina.
On December 3 of last year, IJ Senior Attorney Bert Gall defended Alabama’s two tax-credit programs. Just one week later, IJ Senior Attorney Michael Bindas was (quite literally) a mile high in Denver, defending Douglas County, Colo.’s school-district-created scholarship program. And this month, Dick Komer, who oversees all of IJ’s school choice litigation, will be in North Carolina to argue in defense of the state’s scholarship program for low-income families.
The U.S. Constitution protects the freedom of parents to choose the educational setting they believe will best serve their children. As the U.S. Supreme Court explained in the 1925 landmark case Pierce v. Society of Sisters, the “fundamental theory of liberty upon which all governments in this Union repose excludes any general power of the state to standardize its children by forcing them to accept instruction from public teachers only. The child is not the mere creature of the State; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.”
Recognizing that many families do not have the means to exercise this fundamental right, policymakers nationwide have embraced Milton Friedman’s vision of empowering parents to truly direct the education and upbringing of their children. The last few years have seen significant growth in the numbers and types of educational choice programs.
Unfortunately, there are many groups who oppose the effort: Teachers’ unions, who fear the loss of money and power that is essential to the public school monopoly; and the ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State, who espouse principles of equality and fairness, but nevertheless seek to interfere with parents who desire a religious education for their children. To halt the expansion of school choice programs, these groups routinely file lawsuits in state courts under state constitutions, naming state officials as defendants—which is where IJ comes in.
IJ represents the true beneficiaries of these programs—parents and children—and intervenes in these cases to defend educational choice. But this brings a host of challenges, especially when it comes time to argue in court, where we must split the time at the podium with the states’ attorneys. This requires IJ’s school choice team to build trust with the state over time, which we do by sharing our significant expertise. There has not been a single day since IJ opened its doors 23 years ago that we have not been in court somewhere in the nation defending a school choice program!
Decisions from these three state supreme courts should come relatively soon. We hope to be celebrating mid-2015 with three decisions expanding freedom for parents and bringing hope to thousands of children for a better education.