In 2015, Montana created a scholarship program to “provide parental and student choice in education.” It established a tax credit for parents who used the funds to send their children to a “qualified education provider” (“The Democrats’ School Choice Problem,” The Nation, Dec. 30). In 2018, however, the Montana Supreme Court ruled that religious schools were entirely off-limits for the program.
In doing so, the Montana Supreme Court cited the state Constitution that expressly prohibits taxpayer funding for religious schools. These prohibitions are referred to as the Blaine amendments, which are on the books in 35 states. Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue aims at such constitutional prohibitions.
I’m not a lawyer, but I think the U.S. Supreme Court will overrule the Montana Supreme Court. I say that because of its decision in 2002 in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris. It held that as long as a government aid program is neutral with respect to religion and provides assistance directly to parents who then make their own choice, it passes constitutional muster. Montana seems to meet all these criteria.
If Espinoza is upheld, it will mark the beginning of a new era in education in this country. I’ve long believed that education will not be recognizable in the U.S. a decade from now. Espinoza will be further evidence of that.
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2 Replies to “Landmark school choice case”
Vouchers for religious schools are bad policy but are probably constitutional + it’s probably unconstitutional for a state/city to set up a voucher program and exclude religious schools from that program. However, by the same token (of constitutional law analysis), those religious schools that receive $ under such a voucher program should then also be subject to ALL the same rules/requirements as the non-religious schools that accept the vouchers.
Labor Lawyer: Unfortunately, religious schools so far have not been required to administer the same tests and abide by the same rules and regulations as traditional public schools. I don’t think religious schools should be able to have it both ways.