Supreme Court Rules State's Denial Of Funding For Religious Schools Violates Constitution

Rebecca Klein
People gather outside the Supreme Court during oral arguments in the Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue case on Jan. 22. (Sarah Silbiger / Reuters)

The Supreme Court dealt a victory to private school choice advocates on Tuesday in its ruling on a landmark case that opens the floodgates for allowing public dollars to fund religious institutions.

The case, Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, centered around a school tax credit program in Montana that provided financial incentives for individuals and corporations to donate to private school tuition scholarships. Most of the schools that signed up to participate were religious.

In 2018, the Montana Supreme Court found this in violation of a state constitutional provision barring public dollars for religious schools. The state disbanded the entire program in response, a decision that affected both the religious and secular schools in the program. 

In a 5-4 ruling that will likely reverberate around the nation, the Supreme Court has reversed the state court’s decision. In this case, plaintiffs and their supporters argued that the state discriminated against religious institutions. 

At the center of the case is an issue that President Donald Trump and his appointees have long championed: private school choice, which includes voucher and tax-credit programs. Private school choice programs, which exist in 29 states and the District of Columbia, typically provide publicly funded scholarships for children from lower-income families to attend private schools. A 2017 HuffPost investigation found that over 75% of schools that participate in these programs are religious and overwhelmingly Christian. However, in some places, they push up against constitutional provisions called Blaine Amendments, which bar public funding from going to religious entities.  

Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue acts as a larger referendum on private school choice, which U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has tried vigorously to expand. Indeed, DeVos has spoken out against Blaine Amendments in the context of school choice, saying in a previous statement to The New...

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