Vouchers, savings accounts affected

A push to amend the state Constitution to keep a Ten Commandments monument at the State Capitol could also boost efforts to expand school choice vouchers and education savings accounts in Oklahoma.

The future of vouchers and education savings accounts in the state has been murky  since an Oklahoma County District Court judge ruled that the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship violates the state Constitution by diverting public money to private religious institutions.

The scholarships allow parents of special education students to use money for public schools to pay for the cost of sending their child to a private school. The court ruling, made last August, has been appealed to the state Supreme Court.

A decision upholding the lower court could make any future push to approve school choice vouchers and education savings accounts difficult.

Such a decision, however, might be rendered moot if the state overturns the section of the state constitution, known as a Blaine Amendment, that prohibits public money or property from being used for religious purposes.

The Blaine Amendment refers to a post-Civil War amendment proposed to the U.S. Constitution that would have prohibited public money from going to sectarian schools. The amendment failed at the federal level, but more than 35 states added it to their own constitutions. Critics of the amendments point out that the original motive was concern among Protestants that public funding would go to Catholic schools, which had grown as more Catholics entered the country.

Rep. J.P. Jordan, R-Yukon, has filed a resolution calling for a public vote to repeal that section of the Oklahoma Constitution, which the state Supreme Court cited in ordering that the Ten Commandments monument be removed from the Capitol grounds.