Nelson Praises Decision to Maintain Scholarship Act
OKLAHOMA CITY – State Rep. Jason Nelson today said Tulsa district court judge Rebecca Nightingale’s order allowing students to continue using special-needs scholarships is the right decision.
“Allowing the program to continue during the appeal is the right thing to do,” said Nelson, R-Oklahoma City. “I know the decision by the judge to grant a stay comes as welcome news to the parents and students who are currently benefiting from the law. I look forward to the Oklahoma Supreme Court taking up the appeal of Judge Nightingale’s ruling where I believe it will be overturned. The law is clearly constitutional if numerous similar state programs are any indication. Opposition to this law is parochial and political – not constitutional.”
The Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship Act allows students with a disability on an individualized education program (IEP) to receive state-funded scholarships to attend private school. The scholarships are funded with money already designated for the child’s education.
In response, the Jenks and Union school districts sued some of the parents of children with special needs who obtained the scholarships provided by the law.
Nightingale ruled against the program because some scholarship recipients used the funds to attend private schools with a religious affiliation.
Her decision not only puts the scholarship program at risk, but also many other state programs. Medicaid, which pays for health care for the poor, is one of the largest state programs imperiled by the Jenks/Union lawsuit since many state hospitals have religious affiliations.
Eric Baxter, Senior Counsel with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, is representing the parents in the lawsuit.
“We are pleased the students will continue learning in an environment that can address their needs,” said Baxter. “However, it is unfortunate that the school districts decided to spend their money suing the families of disabled students instead of supporting opportunities for students with disabilities to succeed. It’s like suing grandma because she signed up for Medicare.”
“It was a win-win situation,” said Baxter. “The scholarships meet pressing needs without imposing additional costs on the state.”
“This decision is unprecedented,” said Baxter. “The Oklahoma Supreme court has been clear for decades that the State can contract with private entities—including religiously-affiliated entities—to provide services the State would otherwise provide directly. What the State cannot do is exclude some service providers simply because they are religiously affiliated, which is what the district court’s ruling would lead to.”
Judge's Order Staying Judgment Pending Appeal (April 17, 2012)
Judge's Entry of Judgment (April 16, 2012)