School districts cannot sue parents who use state funds to send their special-needs children to private schools, the Oklahoma State Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in November.
The state constitution requires the legislature, not districts, to provide a “free public education,” Vice Chief Justice Tom Colbert wrote in the majority opinion. Because the legislature uses state and not local funds for the voucher program, school districts can’t sue parents for participating in a program that doesn’t use local money. School districts “are merely the Legislature’s vehicle” for providing most K-12 education, he noted.
The ruling overturns a lower court’s ruling that the vouchers are unconstitutional. Two school districts argued using state funds to support private schools that may be religious violates the Oklahoma constitution, giving them the right to sue parents who do so.
“The parents are clearly not the proper parties against whom to assert these constitutional challenges,” Colbert stated.
The Union and Jenks school district superintendents and boards issued a statement saying they will consider whether to sue another party over the voucher program’s constitutionality.
The voucher law saves the state $120,000 per year, said State Rep. Jason Nelson (R-Oklahoma City), the law’s coauthor. In 2010-2011, 135 students enrolled.
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