Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Nelson Reacts to New Lawsuit against Special Needs Scholarships Law

OKLAHOMA CITY – A new legal challenge to the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program Act filed yesterday represents “ideological hostility to the rights of parents to direct the education of their children,” according to the author of the bill that created the scholarships.

State Rep. Jason Nelson said the program helps children with special needs attend a private school of their choice by providing state-funded scholarships. It has been in place for three years. A lawsuit filed by two Tulsa-area school districts was tossed out by the Oklahoma Supreme Court in 2012 on the grounds that schools cannot sue on behalf of taxpayers. The new lawsuit targets the state superintendent, the state department of education and the state board of education. The Obama Administration filed a lawsuit against a similar law in Louisiana this year.

“I first heard about this latest lawsuit from a parent who is concerned about what will happen to her child now,” said Nelson, R-Oklahoma City. “This new lawsuit mirrors the previous one that was struck down just this past fall and many of the plaintiffs have ties to school districts but are suing as individuals this time.”

Nelson said there are two things about the lawsuit that stand out to him.

“First and most importantly, not one of the plaintiffs has a child with special needs in the public school system where the school is failing to meet the needs of their child,” Nelson said. “None of them are facing the very real circumstances faced by parents of more than 200 children who use the Henry scholarship program because the needs of their children were not being met.

“Second, none of the plaintiffs in this case have demonstrated any interest or willingness to address the legitimate concerns expressed about challenges in public schools faced by parents of the students who are currently using the Lindsey Henry Scholarship.

“There’s a fundamental disagreement here. Children do not exist to fund the institutions. The institutions exist to support and educate the children and when that doesn't happen, regardless of the reason, we have a moral obligation to do whatever is necessary to ensure those children get the education they need and that the taxpayers are paying for, regardless of where they receive that education.

“This law has benefitted the public school system by increasing per-pupil spending on students in the public school system every year it's been in existence. This is a fact that is easily demonstrated but universally ignored by opponents. One of the plaintiffs has a background in school finance. I’m amazed this fact has escaped him.”

Nelson noted that the lead plaintiff is employed by Oral Roberts University, which was allocated more than $380,000 in state-funded scholarships through the Oklahoma Tuition Equalization Grant program, or OTEG, for the current academic year.

“OTEG is virtually identical to the Henry Scholarship Program,” Nelson said. “If the lead plaintiff is so offended by the Lindsey Henry Scholarship Program why has he not challenged the OTEG law that he benefits from – I would be embarrassed. He must be familiar with Jesus’ teaching, ‘Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?’

“If you use their actions as a guide, the opposition here and in the Louisiana case is about an ideological hostility to the rights of parents to direct the education of their children – not about legitimate legal concerns. There are many state programs that do exactly what the plaintiffs here claim is unconstitutional. The plaintiffs simply can’t see that this is not about funding institutions but about ensuring children get the best education possible regardless of where they get that education.”

Nelson said he looks forward to working with state Superintendent Janet Barresi, Attorney General Scott Pruitt, the state Board of Education, parents and other supporters to vigorously defend the law. 

“The Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship Program is a constitutional, common sense law that benefits the students using the program, the public school system and the taxpayers,” Nelson said. “I’m confident the law will ultimately be upheld.”

Short documentary about the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship Program

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