The school choice movement has entered a new era.
A clear signal of that came today with the announcement that Institute for Justice, the national public interest law firm that successfully argued the 2022 landmark U.S. Supreme Court case establishing parental freedom in state school choice programs, is partnering with the national research nonprofit EdChoice to defend future legal challenges to school choice programs.
The organizations will join forces to provide legislative counseling and legal defense of choice under the joint banner of the Partnership for Educational Choice, with the newly founded EdChoice Legal Advocates eventually taking over those responsibilities from IJ, according to a news release.
“IJ and EdChoice have worked together for decades to pass, promote and defend educational choice programs and we are excited about our new partnership to ensure vigorous defense of state programs throughout the country,” IJ President and Chief Counsel Scott Bullock said in a statement. “IJ has accomplished what it set out to do three decades ago: establish the constitutionality of educational choice programs and, in turn, make it possible for millions of families across the country to benefit from the opportunity that those programs provide.”
The phased handoff of all choice program defense to EdChoice will allow IJ to focus on barriers to forms of education choice such as microschools, homeschool co-ops and other innovative programs that have emerged as the result of newly adopted education savings account programs. Entrepreneurs seeking to establish these non-traditional learning environments are often stifled by government-imposed land use and zoning regulations, as well as building codes criticized as outdated and discriminatory.
For example, a Florida law passed in 2022 reined in local government rules that blocked new charter schools. But the law didn’t protect private schools. The exclusion kept a South Florida Jewish day school from opening a few weeks before classes were set to begin, sending families scrambling for options.
IJ leaders say that while they have met the goal set at the organization’s founding in 1991 of being the premier lawyers for the education choice movement and establishing the federal constitutionality of ed choice programs, legal battles continue in state courts. That’s where EdChoice, with its long history of working in statehouses, comes in.
“To realize Milton and Rose Friedman’s vision of universal choice, we must not merely create educational freedom programs, but also ensure they withstand legal challenge in state courts,” EdChoice President and CEO Robert Enlow said in a statement. “Just as we anticipate a need to help implement school choice, we also anticipate an increased need to represent parents and defend these statutes across the country. By partnering with IJ to launch EdChoice Legal Advocates, we will safeguard the Friedmans’ legacy and preserve choice programs for families.”
EdChoice has tapped Tom Fisher, former solicitor general of the state of Indiana, to lead the effort. Fisher has argued five times at the U.S. Supreme Court and many more in the Supreme Court of Indiana, including in Meredith v. Pence, in which, along with IJ, he successfully defended the state’s Opportunity Scholarship Program.
IJ senior attorney Michael Bindas, who leads IJ’s educational choice practice and argued the landmark Carson v. Makin case at the Supreme Court, called the partnership a “force multiplier” for the education freedom movement and will ensure that state-adopted programs will be robustly defended while at the same time, barriers to innovation are vigorously challenged.
“Every child deserves the education that will work best for her, and this partnership will bring us closer to making that a reality,” he said.