The Supreme Court ruled against a ban on taxpayer funding of religious schools Tuesday in a monumental win for school choice.
Chief Justice John Roberts joined conservative justices in a 5-4 ruling backing a Montana tax-credit scholarship program that gives residents credit if they donated to private scholarship organizations, according to Fox News, which would help the students pay for the private school of their choice.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor called the ruling “perverse” in her dissent, the Associated Press reports.
“Without any need or power to do so, the Court appears to require a State to reinstate a tax-credit program that the Constitution did not demand in the first place,” the justice said.
The Montana revenue department had sought to prevent scholarships from going to religious schools, and the Montana Supreme Court had then struck down the whole program, Fox News reported.
“Again today the Supreme Court held that the U.S. Constitution prevents the government from treating religious organizations and schools unequally,” said Kelly Shackelford, President, CEO and chief counsel to First Liberty Institute. “The Justices made it clear that states cannot legally discriminate against religious organizations when they perform the same work secular institutions do. This is a victory for religious liberty.”
But the union president of the Montana Federation of Public Employees, Amanda Curtis, said called the decision “a slap in the face.”
“Today’s decision violates Montana’s commitment to public education, our children, and our constitution. Extremist special interests are manipulating our tax code to rob Montana children of quality education while padding the pockets of those who run exclusive, discriminatory private schools,” Curtis said, according to the AP.
Kay C. James, president of the D.C. based conservative think tank Heritage Foundation, praised the ruling in a Tuesday statement.
“Religious schools have been a part of American education since this country’s founding,” James said. “By any measure, they are a valid and often outstanding choice for a child’s education. This decision respects our Constitution as well as families’ rights to seek the best educational opportunities for their children.”
The ruling is a significant victory for those who support school choice, which allows parents to choose the public school their child will attend, rather than having their child assigned to a school based on where the family lives. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has focused many of her efforts on expanding school choice since she became the education secretary in 2017.
Democratic 2020 presidential candidate Joe Biden has come under fire for his opposition to school choice. Vice President Mike Pence has accused him of preventing black parents from obtaining the American dream by blocking them from picking where their kids go to school.
President Donald Trump said June 16 that school choice is the “civil rights statement of the year.”
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 19, 2020
“School choice is the civil rights statement of the year, of the decade and probably beyond,” Trump said at a White House press conference. “Because all children have to have access to a quality education. A child’s ZIP code in America should never determine their future.”
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