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Oklahoma Supreme Court Rejects Challenge to Special Needs Vouchers

The Oklahoma Supreme Court has thrown out a challenge to a state private school voucher law that gives students with disabilities money to attend private schools.

The Tulsa World reports that the state's high court on Tuesday tossed out a lawsuit by two school districts over the state's Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships. For the last two years, the Union and Jenks school districts were involved in a complex lawsuit and countersuit over the vouchers, challenging them on the grounds that they violate a clause of the state constitution by allowing public funds to be spent on private, religious schools.

From the newspaper's report:

In Tuesday's ruling, the state Supreme Court said the school districts do not have standing in the case because the "school districts are not taxpayers themselves, whom this Court has long recognized have a right to challenge the illegal expenditure of public funds." "Because the school districts are not the ones charged with the duty to provide free public education, the Legislature's withholding of certain funds, even if it is unconstitutional, does not violate a constitutionally protected interest of the school districts themselves, because they are merely the Legislature's vehicle," the ruling said. In June, Tulsa District Court Judge Rebecca Nightingale ruled that the law was unconstitutional but left it intact until an appeal was considered.

State Superintendent Janet Barresi welcomed the court's action, the newspaper reported.

"This is a victory for students with disabilities throughout our state and for their families," Barresi said in a statement. "This also is a victory for education choice in Oklahoma."

In recent years, voucher and school choice programs designed specifically for students with disabilities have become popular. Very few, however, have been challenged in court.

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