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Oklahoma Supreme Court Rejects Lawsuit Over Special Needs Scholarships

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File photo. File photo.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court has rejected a lawsuit against a program to provide scholarships for disabled students.

Jenks and Union Schools had sued the parents of disabled students for accepting state scholarships to send their children to private schools. 

But the court threw out the lawsuit saying the school districts had no standing to challenge the constitutionality of the law.

Oklahoma lawmakers established the Lindsay Nicole Henry scholarship fund two years ago to help ensure the special needs of these children were met.

In its ruling the court wrote:

"The school districts are not taxpayers themselves, whom this Court has long recognized have a right to challenge the illegal expenditure of public funds. Fent v. Contingency Review Board, 2007 ... is direct and clear in stating that a taxpayer's challenge to the constitutionality of legislation affecting the use of public funds is a matter of public right. Pursuant to the teachings of Oklahoma Educ. Ass'n v. State ex rel. Oklahoma Legislature, 2007 ... and Indep. School Dist. No. 9 of Tulsa County v. Glass, 1982 ..., the parents are clearly not the proper parties against whom to assert these constitutional challenges. We hold that the school districts have neglected to meet the threshold standing requirement for constitutional challenges."

The court also rejected requests to hear oral arguments and to accept amicus briefs by what it called "allegedly interested" parties.

Read the court's entire ruling.

State Superintendent Janet Barresi issued a statement supporting the ruling:

"I applaud the Oklahoma Supreme Court's decision today to discontinue the challenge to the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship program. This is a victory for students with disabilities throughout our state and for their families. This also is a victory for education choice in Oklahoma."

Attorney General Scott Pruitt also praised the decision. 

"From the beginning, we believed it was improper for these school districts to sue the parents of special needs children simply for following the law," Pruitt said. "We are pleased Oklahoma's Supreme Court agreed, and ruled that these school districts lacked standing to make their claims against the children's families. The Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship Act is the law and districts must follow the law."

The Jenks school district released a statement Tuesday evening, saying the court did not address the constitutionality of the law.

"The Oklahoma Supreme Court's decision today in the school voucher program lawsuit did not address the issue of constitutionality of vouchers in this state. Rather, the Court refused to rule on the constitutional issues solely on the basis of who can sue and who can be sued when challenging the constitutionality of a law. This decision clearly leaves open the constitutional issues raised by both school districts. Two of the justices dissented saying "[t]he constitutional issue has been fairly joined" and that they "would decide the issue." Unfortunately, the majority chose to not address the constitutional issues.

"The Union and Jenks School District Superintendents and Boards of Education will review the Supreme Court decision and make a determination in the near future as to any potential future action."

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