Arizona Supreme Court rejects private school vouchers

Posted: Updated:

PHOENIX -- The state Supreme Court overturned two school voucher programs on Wednesday, saying they violated the Arizona Constitution.

The Arizona Scholarships for Pupils with Disabilities Program and the Disabled Pupils Choice Grant Program allowed parents of foster children and parents of children with special needs to send those students to the school that best meets each one's needs.

The vouchers are cash grants in the form of state payment warrants provided to parents, who must sign them over to private schools their children attend.

Arizona State Schools Superintendent Tom Horne said he is disappointed by the ruling.

"Arizona has long been a leader in school choice and today's decision hampers our efforts to further improve choice options," Horne said in a press release. "This is especially discouraging because I worked very diligently with legislative leaders in 2008 to restore funding for this program when it was cut in an ill-considered last-minute budget deal."

"This is a terrible result for Arizona students and their parents," said Cathi Herrod, Center for Arizona Policy president. "The Arizona Legislature acted to provide meaningful education options for students who have special educational needs. Today's opinion from the Supreme Court ignores the needs of students and penalizes parents for choosing religious schools that meet their children's needs."

The justices heard arguments in December on whether the programs violate the state Constitution's bans on using tax dollars to support religion or to fund private schools.

The justices unanimously decided they did. Lower courts split on the issue.

"Nobody knows better than parents what's best for their children, and that's especially true for a child's educational needs," Horne said. "This program gives parents choices, and I'm very disappointed that it has been found to be in violation of our state's Constitution."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.