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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