See Student Life for more
- Spanish - Site Map - Contact
Union Student Safety HelpLine
Originally posted June 20, 2012
Fight over Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Act moves to Oklahoma Supreme Court
BY KIM ARCHER Tulsa World World Staff Writer
(Reprinted with Permission. This is not an endorsement.)
The battle over an Oklahoma scholarship program that uses public education funds to help send special-needs children to private schools has now moved into the arena of the Oklahoma Supreme Court.
On Friday, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty in Washington, D.C., filed a brief with the court on behalf of the parents of five special-needs students who accepted the scholarships. Union and Jenks school districts have until June 29 to file responses.
Last September, Union and Jenks school districts countersued the parents of six special-needs children to challenge the constitutionality of the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Act signed into law two years ago.
Since the state Legislature passed the law, Tulsa-area school administrators and public school advocates have denounced the use of state education funds for private schools, particularly those affiliated with a religion.
But Becket Fund attorneys argued in the brief that it would violate the Oklahoma Constitution's prohibition against using state funds for private sectarian uses only if the aid "is used by the state to promote religion or to discriminate on the basis of religion. The Scholarship Act does neither. It is religiously neutral in every respect."
Union and Jenks administrators take issue with numerous elements of the law and believe it clearly violates the state constitution on several counts.
"I don't see how the Oklahoma Supreme Court could have been clearer, that if you want to send your kids to religious schools, you must pay for it and not the taxpayers," Doug Mann, an attorney who represents several Tulsa-area school districts, said in April.
In March, Tulsa District Court Judge Rebecca B. Nightingale struck down the law as unconstitutional.
In their brief, Becket Fund attorneys expressed consternation that Nightingale failed to explain her decision.
"In sum, the district court's failure to provide any explanation of why it struck the Scholarship Act is understandable because there is no possible explanation," attorneys wrote in the brief. "The Scholarship Act complies fully with the Oklahoma Constitution."
"No public money or property shall ever be appropriated, applied, donated or used, directly or indirectly, for the use, benefit, or support of any sect, church, denomination or system of religion, or for the use, benefit, or support of any priest, preacher, minister, or other religious teacher or dignitary, or sectarian institution as such."
Source: Constitution of the State of Oklahoma; Article II, Section 5
HB 3393 timeline
June 2010: Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Act, or HB 3393, is signed into law.
Fall 2010: Broken Arrow, Jenks, Union, Tulsa and Liberty school boards vote not to process the scholarships.
Jan. 18, 2011: Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt threatens legal action against those school districts and individual board members if they fail to comply with the law within the week.
Jan. 24, 2011: Union, Jenks, Broken Arrow and Liberty school districts announce that they will sue Pruitt over the constitutionality of the law. They also vote to process scholarships under the law until a decision on its constitutionality is made.
April 25, 2011: Twenty parents sue Broken Arrow, Jenks, Union and Tulsa school districts, alleging their special-needs children were denied private school scholarships in 2010-11.
May 2011: The state Legislature passes HB 1744, which transfers responsibility for administering the scholarship program from the districts to the Oklahoma State Department of Education. It took effect Aug. 26.
July 2011: In light of that legislation, federal Chief Judge Claire Eagan grants the parents a stay so they can pursue "administrative remedies" through the state Education Department. Eagan also invites the school districts to file their challenge of HB 3393's constitutionality in state court.
Aug. 26, 2011: Pruitt asks the state Auditor's Office to investigate whether the Broken Arrow, Jenks, Liberty, Owasso, Tulsa and Union school districts complied with the law in 2010-11.
Sept. 2, 2011: Jenks and Union school districts file a countersuit in state court to challenge the constitutionality of the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Act on behalf of all school districts. Their suit names the parents of three students in each district who participated in the federal lawsuit against the schools.
Nov. 3, 2011: A federal lawsuit filed against the Broken Arrow, Jenks, Tulsa and Union school districts by a group of parents alleging that their special-needs children were denied private school scholarships was dismissed at the parents' request.
March 27, 2012: Tulsa District Judge Rebecca B. Nightingale struck down the law, ruling it unconstitutional. Opposing attorneys said they would immediately file a motion for a stay to keep the law intact until the appeals process is complete.
June 15: Attorneys for parents of special-needs children file a brief with the Oklahoma Supreme Court. Union and Jenks school districts have until June 29 to file responses.
Original Print Headline: Voucher fight moves to state's high court
Voucher issue heads to State Suprene Court - June 20, 2012
Judge rules in favor of schools in lawsuit - March 28, 2012
Voucher law ruled unconstitutional - March 28, 2012
School voucher law ruled unconstitutional - March 28, 2012
District judge strikes down voucher law - March 27, 2012
District judge rules against school voucher law - March 27, 2012
Rural superintendent against school voucher - December 19, 2011
Parents claim vouchers are helping their kids - November 6, 2011
School voucher critics cite lack of credibility - November 6, 2011
Public funds used to send special-needs kids to private schools - October 23, 2011
Voucher law under scrutiny - October 23, 2011
Special-needs vouchers to top $700,000 - October 18, 2011
Union, Jenks repond to state criticism - September 29, 2011
Schools argue lawsuit claims 'untrue' - May 3, 2011
Parents of special needs students sue 4 districts - April 29, 2011
School daze - April 29, 2011
School boards to sue Attorney General - January 25, 2011
Union votes not comply with new law - October 12, 2010