As momentum builds for school choice, the battlefield is extending to the courts.
In June, the Institute for Justice, a nonprofit advocacy group in Washington, D.C., filed lawsuits against the states of Illinois and California on behalf of more than 100 low-income parents and children.
"Our argument essentially is that by any measure one would care to apply, these children are not remotely receiving the minimal educational opportunities that are guaranteed under the state constitution," says Clint Bolick, vice president and litigation director for the institute.
The suits call for the states to give parents the money currently spent on educating their children in public schools. This would create a court-ordered voucher system. Families could use the vouchers, worth about $2,500, for private or public schools of their choice.
Although elite private schools would still be out of reach for these families, $2,500 would easily pay for tuition at inner-city Roman Catholic schools and other religious or independent schools.
"There's no question that they [low-income families] would have a broad variety of options," Bolick says.
Ted Kimbrough, superintendent of Chicago Public Schools, called the lawsuit "anti-American and antidemocratic" at a press conference in June.
It "expands an elitist system, and only serves to increase the disparity between parents who can access resources and those who can't," he said.
Since nearly every state has a constitutional provision for education, these lawsuits could be replicated around the country, Bolick says.
"We believe that the legal arena is a much more level playing field [than the legislative arena]," he says. "Legislative reforms often can take years. For these kids, every minute counts."
The Georgia Public Policy Center is planning to initiate a case against the Atlanta public schools later this year.