No Public Funds for Private Schools, Suit Says

     PHOENIX (CN) – Arizona public school teachers want to bring down a new state law that they say would unconstitutionally let students use taxpayer funds to pay for tuition at religious and private schools.
     Passed earlier this year, Senate Bill 1553 “authorizes the Department of Education to disburse public funds as ‘scholarships,” according to the lawsuit filed in Maricopa County Court. For a student to receive a scholarship under the law, “the student’s parent must promise not to enroll the qualified student in a school district or charter school, and to release the school district from all obligations to educate the qualified student,” according to the lawsuit.
     Sharon Niehaus, a parent and member of a Pima County school board, filed the complaint alongside the Arizona Education Association, with the Arizona School Boards Association and the Arizona Association of School Business Officials.
     They say S.B. 1553 violates the aid clause in the Arizona Constitution, which provides, “No tax shall be laid of appropriation of public money made in aid of any church, or private or sectarian school, or any public service corporation.”
     It also allegedly violates the religion clause in the state Constitution, which says, “No public money … shall be appropriated for or applied to any religious worship, exercise, or instruction”
     The educators and board members claim that S.B. 1553 “is also invalid because it conditions the availability of a public benefit on a waiver of constitutional rights,” and such waivers are “prohibited for reasons of public policy.”
     The plaintiffs seek an injunction stopping Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal from “permitting any disbursements of public funds pursuant to the authority of S.B. 1533.” They are represented by Donald Peters of LaSota & Peters.

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