Group Works to Defend Arkansas School Voucher Program

Partnership for Educational Choice, a coalition advocating for educational options nationwide, has filed a motion this week seeking to join the defense of a legal challenge in Arkansas that questions the legality of a newly implemented school voucher initiative.

Four guardians representing public school students initiated the lawsuit at the Pulaski County Circuit Court earlier this month. They are seeking a court order to halt the implementation of the Education Freedom Account Program, which was established under the Arkansas LEARNS Act. The legal challenge argues that redirecting funds originally designated for public schools violates a Constitutional provision.

The lawsuit further alleges that the implementation of the LEARNS Act would siphon resources from the public education system, creating an unequal system that discriminates against children based on economic, racial, and physical differences.

The named defendants in the case include Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Education Secretary Jacob Oliva, the Arkansas State Board of Education, and Department of Finance and Administration Secretary Jim Hudson.

Partnership for Educational Choice is described as “a collaborative effort between the Institute for Justice and EdChoice,” both notable nonprofit organizations known for their advocacy of school voucher programs similar to the one supported by Sanders in 2023.

If the motion to intervene submitted by Partnership for Educational Choice is granted, their legal team will represent three Arkansas mothers who are either current participants or are planning to enroll their children in the voucher program. These mothers are Erika Lara from Little Rock, Katie Parrish from Paragould, and Nikita Glendenning from Van Buren.

“Before I received my Education Freedom Account, my son was being bullied and struggling academically, but now I have the resources to put him into a school where he’s thriving,” Lara expressed in a press statement. “Taking away this program would put my son’s academic and social progress in jeopardy.”

Over 5,400 Arkansas students were involved in the inaugural year of the program, with a phased increase planned over three years. The participation limit for the upcoming 2024-2025 academic year is set at approximately 14,000 students, with an allocated state funding of around $6,900 per student, up from $6,600 the previous year.

The state legislators recently authorized $97.5 million for the voucher program in the 2025 fiscal year, with projections suggesting a potential total cost of up to $175 million by the third year when the program expands to include all Arkansas students.

One of the grounds for requesting intervention in the case is the assertion that the mothers’ interest in the program is intricately tied to their basic right to “direct the upbringing and education” of their children.

Both Lara and Parrish have transferred their children to alternative schools through the Education Freedom Account Program, and the motion emphasizes the financial challenges that would arise if the program is invalidated. Glendenning intends to utilize the program for two of her four children starting in the 2025-2026 school year.

“Despite numerous court decisions upholding the constitutionality of programs like these, opponents of educational choice persist in their opposition,” remarked Thomas M. Fisher, Vice President and Director of Litigation at Ed Choice, in a press release. “We are prepared to defend this program and assert its constitutional validity.”

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