Court Rejects Special Needs Scholarship Lawsuit, But Issues Not Settled

Wednesday, November 21st 2012, 6:59 pm
By: Emory Bryan

Parents facing a lawsuit from their school districts say they're relieved the state supreme court ruled in their favor.

But there are other issues the court didn't settle in the battle over how the state pays to educate children with special needs.

There are 188 children statewide now using state issued scholarships to pay part of the cost of private school tuition.

Five of those families were sued by Jenks and Union, but the schools have lost at least this round in court.

11/20/2012 Related Story: Oklahoma Supreme Court Rejects Lawsuit Over Special Needs Scholarships

Tim Fisher said he is happy he's personally off the hook, but doesn't believe public schools will give up the fight.

"Advocates on both sides say it's about a bigger issue: vouchers for everyone. And whether you're for that or not, what it's about now - the law as it's written now - is about disabled kids getting an education they are entitled to and they weren't getting from the public schools," Fisher said.

The scholarship program directs state dollars for public education to offset the cost of private school.

It's limited to children on special education plans and practical only for parents who can afford the remaining tuition and who have a suitable choice of schools.

"A lot of these parents have tried and tried to make it in the public school," said Representative Jason Nelson.

He wrote the legislation.

"The parents didn't create the program or administer the program. They don't enforce it. To sue them is purely a personal issue, apparently, because there's no legal basis for it, and now the Supreme Court has made that clear," Nelson said.

The court ruled schools can't sue parents over funding, but didn't address the constitutionality of using state dollars for private school tuition, some of which goes to schools with religious ties.

"I think the right decision was … schools shouldn't be suing parents because they disagree with a law," Fisher said.

The Jenks and Union school districts say they're reviewing the case to decide if they'll file another lawsuit.

Representative Nelson believes the districts that sued their own parents will continue to fight the law that he says has given parents of disabled children the choice of a better education.

The amount of the scholarship is based on the severity of the disability.

For the Fishers, it's $3,600 a year, about a third of the cost of the private school their daughter attends.