U.S. Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Montana School Choice Case
On Thursday, The United States Supreme Court agreed to hear Espinosa v Montana Department of revenue, what is commonly known as the school choice case.
Attorney for the Institute for Justice, Erica Smith, shared the news on Friday morning.
“This is very exciting news for families in Montana and thousands of families across the country,” said Smith. “This all started in 2015 when the Montana Legislature passed the first Educational Choice program. Thirty other states have similar programs. They wanted to make it easier for low-income families to have a choice in their families’ education. They set up a scholarship program so that these families could apply for a scholarship to either religious schools or a non-religious school. The case went all the way to the Montana Supreme Court which actually struck down the entire program saying that just the mere fact that families could choose to use the scholarship meant that it was unconstitutional under the state constitution.”
Smith pointed out that Montana’s constitution contains something called the Blaine Amendment.
“This is a very archaic provision that’s actually contained in 38 state constitutions, and what it says is that the state cannot directly or indirectly aid religious schools or other religious institutions,” she said. “These provisions were enacted in the late 1800’s to discriminate against Catholics and Catholic schools, to keep Catholic immigrants to come into the country and threatened the Protestant majority.”
Eric Feaver, President of the Montana Federation of Public Employees, provided this statement.
“We are very disappointed in the United State Supreme Court’s decision to hear Espinosa v the Montana Department of Revenue,” said Feaver. “We think the Montana Supreme Court got this question right. We believe our constitution means what it says that there shall be no direct or indirect appropriation of public tax dollars to religious education, and we think that the court perhaps is suggesting that our constitution is in doubt, in question, and may be unconstitutional and if that’s the case then our public schools are at risk of competing now for public dollars with private and religious schools.”
Erica Smith feels confident that the high court will find for the concept of educational choice.
“We feel very confident that the court will find with the families and educational choice,” she said. “I think that’s the big reason why they took this up, because the Montana Supreme Court struck down the entire scholarship program. This has been a problem in other states and other courts have been divided on this issue for the past 25 years and I think the Supreme Court wants to step in to finally allow parents a real choice in their children’s education.”
The first briefing is scheduled for mid August.