Privatization Around the States
Although Arizona has served as ground zero for more than 2 decades, the divestment of public education and privatization efforts are pushed across the nation. Arizona created the first ESA program in 2011. Florida, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Nevada have since adopted ESAs; however, Nevada’s remains unfunded.
Here is a helpful overview from the Education Law Center of voucher-related legal cases across the United States including use of public funds for private education, Tax Credit Scholarship Programs, Civil Rights (Vouchers for Students with Disabilities and Segregation), and Religion (First Amendment and Blaine Amendments).
Wisconsin: Davis v. Grover, 480 N.W.2d 460 (Wis. 1992) found that a program providing vouchers for low-income children to attend non-sectarian schools did not violate public purpose doctrine requiring that public funds be spent only for public purposes or a state constitutional requirement that the legislature establish uniform school districts.
Florida: Bush v. Holmes, 919 So.2d 392 (Fla. 2006) found that a voucher program a) violated the state constitution because it diverted public money into a private education system, contravening a requirement that the public system be the only means of fulfilling the state’s education mandate and b) violated the uniformity requirement for public schools.
Arizona: Cain v. Horne, 202 P.3d 1178 (Ariz. 2009) found two voucher programs appropriating state funds for parents to use for private school did not violate the Arizona Constitution’s Religion Clause prohibiting appropriations for religious purposes but did violate its Aid Clause prohibiting appropriations of public money to aid private or sectarian schools.
Indiana: Meredith v. Pence, 984 N.E.2d 1213 (Ind. 2013) found that a voucher program did not violate the Education Clause of the Indiana state Constitution because it affords the legislature broad discretion to fulfill its duty and because the state still provided a uniform system of public schools. The program also did not violate the state constitution’s clauses regarding religion.
Louisiana: Louisiana Fed’n of Teachers v. State of Louisiana, 118 So.3d 1033 (La. 2013) invalidated a voucher program because it violated the Louisiana Constitution by diverting Minimum Foundation Program funds from public to private schools.
Arizona: Niehaus v. Huppenthal, 310 P.3d 983 (Ariz. App. 2013) was declined review, thereby upholding a Court of Appeals ruling that found the Empowerment Scholarship Account voucher program does not violate the state constitution because funding can be used for a variety of educational expenses including, but not limited to, private school tuition. The court ruled that “the Religion Clause was not intended to place a blanket prohibition against channeling public funds to religious organizations, but rather to prohibit ‘assistance in any form whatsoever which would encourage or tend to encourage the preference of one religion over another, or religion per se over no religion.’”
North Carolina: Hart v. State of North Carolina, 368 N.C. 122 (N.C. 2015) found that a voucher program for low-income students did not violate the state constitution’s school funding provision because scholarships were funded from general revenue, and did not violate North Carolina’s constitution’s uniformity or public purpose provisions.
Nevada: Lopez v. Schwartz, 382 P.3d 886 (Nev. 2016) permanently enjoined implementation of broad Education Savings Accounts (ESA) voucher program because it unconstitutionally diverted funding provided by the legislature for public schools to pay for private educational expenses. The decision was ruled in January 2016, ruling in favor of parents challenging the ESA voucher program. An appeal to this decision was made by State Treasurer, Dan Schwartz. The Nevada Supreme Court unanimously upheld the previous ruling that the ESA program was unconstitutional (Education Law Center, 2019; Walker, 2017).