The News: The United State Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, ruled that a Montana school choice program cannot bar students from attending religious schools – a significant win for school choice and religious freedom. The majority held in Espinoza v. Montana that the Montana Department of Revenue’s rule barring families from using a tax credit scholarship to attend religious schools violates the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause.
The Quote: WILL Director of Education Policy Libby Sobic said, “Today’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court will expand education options for millions of American families. This is a significant step towards a future where every child can attend the school that best meets their needs.”
WILL President and General Counsel Rick Esenberg said, “The Court’s decision reinforces the idea that our Constitution forbids government discrimination against religious organizations. If the state creates a public benefit or program, religious organizations may not be excluded.”
Background: In 2018, the Montana Supreme Court struck down Montana’s first school choice program, a tax-credit scholarship program. The Court relied on a provision in Montana’s Constitution which prevents the state from using public funds to aid religious organizations, including religious private schools. These so-called “Blaine Amendments” were adopted by a number of states (including Wisconsin) throughout the Nineteenth century and are often said to have been rooted in anti-Catholic sentiment.
Three parents, represented by attorneys at the Institute for Justice, asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the Montana Supreme Court’s decision and hold that the Free Exercise and Equal Protection clauses of the United States Constitution do not permit states to “invalidate a generally available and religiously neutral student-aid program simply because the program affords students the choice of attending religious schools.”
WILL submitted two amicus briefs to the Court - one urging the Court to take the case and another asking it to hold Montana’s Blaine Amendment unconstitutional. The briefs, filed on behalf of former Governor Scott Walker, explained Wisconsin’s successful school choice program and urged the court to reject discrimination against religious schools.
School Choice Facts:
- Wisconsin is home to the nation’s oldest private school voucher program.
- More than 86,000 Wisconsin students attend a private school on a voucher or a public charter school.
- Students have higher math and reading proficiency in Wisconsin choice and charter schools.
- Students attending school on a voucher are less likely to commit crimes.
- Students attending school on a voucher are more likely to graduate from high school.
- Students attending school on a voucher are more likely to graduate from college.
- Expanding school choice in Wisconsin could lead to $3.2 billion economic benefits to Wisconsin