Give the U.S. Supreme Court an “A” for its ruling Tuesday backing school choice.
In a decision that heralds educational freedom, religious liberty, and a parent’s right to decide what is best for their children, the nation’s highest court said it is unconstitutional for states to cut religious schools out of programs that send public money to private education
The ruling is a major victory for advocates of school choice. It allows low-income parents an option if they believe their children are trapped into attending failing schools because of the zip code in which they live.
The decision is a setback for those favoring a strict interpretation of the principle of church and state separation. They argue that public schools are being robbed of needed tax funds that voters intended for their use.
The justices, by a 5-4 vote, said denying grants, or scholarships, to students who attend church schools amounts to discrimination against religion.
The court, however, did not say states must fund private schools. But if a state chooses to support private schools through grants or scholarships, it may not exclude schools because of their religious affiliation.
“A state need not subsidize private education,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote for the majority, including the four other conservative justices. “But once a state decides to do so, it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious.”
The four liberal justices dissented.
At a time when the country is wrestling with systemic racism, the ruling provides children across the country unprecedented access to a quality education. That was not lost on the Trump administration, which was quick to praise the decision as an avenue to obtaining the American Dream.
“No child in America should be denied the right to high-quality education because of their zip code. While Democrats like Joe Biden oppose school choice and champion policies that would doom children to failing schools, President Trump has advocated for policies that allow more children to attend the school of their choice, which has especially benefited lower-income and minority communities,” said Ali Pardo, a deputy Communications director for the president.
In making its decision, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed a ruling in Espinoza vs. Montana. Like more than 30 other states, Montana has a long-standing state constitutional provision that forbids spending tax money to support churches and their affiliates. On that basis, the Montana supreme court blocked a state-sponsored scholarship program that would give grants to parents sending their children to private and parochial schools.
The decision was the latest from the Supreme Court, which now includes Trump appointees Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, that have favored religion-based discrimination claims.
The Supreme Court also has upheld some school voucher programs and state courts have ratified others.
Don’t be surprised if more states now begin to provide grants or scholarships for children enrolled in private elementary or secondary schools.
“The weight that this monumental decision carries is immense, as it’s an extraordinary victory for student achievement, parental control, equality in educational opportunities, and First Amendment rights,” said Jeanne Allen, the founder and chief executive of the Center for Education Reform.