The U.S Supreme Court heard a case on Wednesday that could open doors to public money paying for religious private schools in Montana.
Around 500,000 students nationwide attend private schools using publicly funded tuition vouchers or tax-credit scholarships that provide tax credit for those who donate to organizations providing scholarships to private schools.
Legislation passed in 2015 allows Montana to be one of 18 states to allow students to use such tax credits, but the state’s executive branch barred the use of those tax credits at religiously affiliated schools the following year. The branch cited the Blaine Amendment, a state amendment that prohibits the use of public money to support sectarian schools.
The amendment is named after James G. Blaine, who proposed adding an amendment barring the use of public money to support religiously affiliated schools to the U.S. Constitution in 1875. Although it was unsuccessful nationally, 37 states passed it on a state level.
The case Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, which was heard on Wednesday, seeks to overturn Montana’s executive branch barring the use of tax credits from religious schools.
Kendra Espinoza, using a tax-credit scholarship, enrolled a child at Stillwater Christian Schools in Kalispell, Montana. She and other parents are now suing the state after the use of that tax credit was subsequently barred.
The state Supreme Court reversed a ruling from the lower court, agreeing with the Montana Department of Revenue and saying that the tax-credit scholarship program was unconstitutional.
The Supreme Court struck down part of the Blaine amendment in a similar case in Missouri after a church playground was denied materials by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources in 2017.
Nearly 70 percent of Montana’s private schools are religiously affiliated.
Both Alliance for Choice in Education and EdChoice have filed “friend of the court” briefs to support Espinoza. The Tennessee Education Association and other teacher advocacy organizations have filed briefs in support of the state.
A ruling is expected to be handed down in July, according to Future-Ed.
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Jordyn Pair is a reporter with Battleground State News and The Michigan Star. Follow her on Twitter at @JordynPair. Email her at [email protected]
Photo “Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue” by Institute for Justice. CC BY 4.0.