Blaine Amendment does not bar vouchers like McKay Scholarships
Yesterday, in a unanimous decision, the Oklahoma Supreme Court reversed a trial court and held that the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship Act did not violate Oklahoma’s constitutional ban on direct or indirect aid to sectarian institutions (Blaine Amendment). Here is the full Opinion.
Relevant excerpts below:
Thus, the question we must resolve is whether under the conditions outlined in the Act, does the deposit of scholarship funds to a private sectarian school constitute “public money” being “applied, donated, or used, directly or indirectly, for the use,benefit, or support of a sectarian institution. Factors that impact our analysis include : (I). voluntary participation by families in scholarship program; (2) genuine independent choice by parent or legal guardian in selecting sectarian or non-sectarian private school; (3) payment warrant issued to parent or legal guardian; ( 4) parent endorses payment to independently chosen private school; (5) Act is religion neutral with respect to criteria to become an approved school for scholarship program; ( 6) each public school district has the option to contract with a private school to provide mandated special educational services instead of providing services in the district; (7) acceptance of the scholarship under the Act serves as parental revocation of all federally guaranteed rights due to children who qualify for services under 70 O.S. 2012 Supp., §13-101.2 (F); and (8) the district public school is relieved of its obligation to provide educational services to the
child with disabilities as long as the child utilizes the scholarship.
We are persuaded that the Act is completely neutral with regard to religion and that any funds deposited to a sectarian school occur as the sole result of the parent’s independent decision completely free from state influence . The scholarship payment warrant is made to the parent who then endorses funds to the private school the parent determined was best suited to provide special education services to their child with a disability. The Act is void of any suggestion or inference to favor religion or any particular sect. Private schools are chosen by the parent from private schools that are approved by meeting objective state educational standards irrespective of religious preference. The parent, not the State, determines where the scholarship funds will be applied. We are satisfied that under this scenario , the State is not adopting sectarian principles or providing monetary support of any particular sect. . . . We hold the Oklahoma “Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Act”, a school voucher program limited to provide educational choices for children with disabilities, does not violate Article II, Section 5 of the Oklahoma Constitution.