The Supreme Court Is Set To Decide Whether Religious Kids Are Allowed A Good Education

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Share on
LinkedIn
+

This op-ed appeared in The Daily Caller  on July 18, 2019.

Authors: Jamie Gass and Ben DeGrow

Late last month, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would hear Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, a case that will answer that question.

Kendra Espinoza, who suddenly became a single mom, sought a better education for her daughters. In their public schools, one daughter was bullied and the other struggled academically. Both would later thrive in parochial school.

After the Montana Supreme Court struck down her state’s education tax credit program, Espinoza was denied access to scholarships her children badly needed. The nation’s highest court has agreed to hear her request to weigh in.

Nationally, over 250,000 students benefit from private-school choice through education tax credits. The basis for the Montana court’s decision was the state’s 130-year-old anti-aid, or Blaine, amendment. The state constitutional provision in Montana, along with those in our respective states of Massachusetts and Michigan, represent formidable legacies of a dark, bigoted chapter of history that still limits educational opportunities for students and families who need them most.

The case offers the U.S. Supreme Court the opportunity to reject the last vestiges of 19th-century anti-Catholic legal discrimination that remain in nearly 40 states. Massachusetts has the oldest such amendment and Michigan has the most recent, but both are considered to be among the worst.

“The Irish are perhaps the only people in our history with the distinction of having a political party, the Know-Nothings, formed against them,” wrote John F. Kennedy in his 1958 book, “A Nation of Immigrants.”

In the mid-1850s, in the wake of Irish immigration, Massachusetts’ virulently anti-Catholic Know-Nothing party passed the nation’s first anti-aid amendment, which, along with a revised amendment added in the early 20th century, prohibits any governmental unit from disbursing public funds to parochial-school parents.

Today, these anti-aid amendments prevent more than 100,000 urban Bay State families with children in chronically underperforming districts from receiving education vouchers and tax credits that would grant them greater school choice.

In the late 19th century, President Ulysses S. Grant proposed an anti-aid amendment to the federal constitution. Maine Congressman James G. Blaine’s anti-aid bill followed, falling just short of congressional approval. Ultimately, his nativist scheming encouraged states to adopt anti-aid amendments in their own constitutions.

Michigan’s turn came nearly a century later, as then-Gov. William Milliken sought to direct state aid to private and religious schools. While Reformed and Lutheran leaders were among those seeking financial support, the ensuing backlash took full aim at the most prominent target. Resistance to the governor’s proposal, referred to as “parochiaid,” stoked the flames of bigotry. “I have never witnessed such anti-Catholic sentiment in my life,” one state senator observed.

Some of that sentiment carried over to a successful 1970 ballot initiative campaign. Advocates for church-state separation joined forces with teachers unions to prohibit both direct and indirect state support for families paying private school tuition. One pro-initiative brochure noted that the measure would overwhelmingly deny funds to “schools owned by the clergy of one politically active church.”

In the half-century since Michigan’s anti-aid initiative passed, about half the states — including some with less onerous Blaine amendments — have adopted some form of private school choice. Yet harmful constitutional language still denies many Massachusetts and Michigan families equal access to educational options aligned to the dictates of their consciences.

The U.S. Supreme Court has recognized that our Constitution’s First Amendment allows states to give families options between religious and nonreligious schools. Now the justices can take a close look at removing the legal barriers to school choice erected out of ancient animosities.

Removal of state amendments conceived in prejudice would allow state school funding to follow the student, as it does for higher education across America. All parents could then choose from a variety of private and parochial school options for their children.

Thanks to Kendra Espinoza, a determined Montana mom, the U.S. Supreme Court will take up and hopefully strike down the infamous legacy of state Know-Nothing and Blaine amendments. From Massachusetts to Michigan and across the nation, this case has the potential to overturn a century and a half of state constitutional discrimination against religious families and their quest for the most suitable and effective education for their children.

Jamie Gass is director of the Center for School Reform at Pioneer Institute, a Boston-based think tank, and Ben DeGrow is director of education policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Michigan.

Get Updates on Our School Choice Research

Related analysis:

The Washington Post’s Jay Mathews on schooling during COVID-19 & lessons from teaching great Jaime Escalante

/
This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard continue coverage of COVID-19’s impact on K-12 education, joined by Jay Mathews, Washington Post education columnist.

NC State's Anna Egalite on School Choice in America & Abroad

/
This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard talk with Dr. Anna Egalite, Assistant Professor at North Carolina State University, about her experiences and research on K-12 education systems in her native Ireland, as well as America and India.

Kevin Chavous on the Promise & Potential of Quality School Choice Options

/
This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard are joined by Kevin Chavous, President of Academics, Policy, and Schools of K12, Inc. about how to promote quality education options that meet the diverse needs of all kids.

Citizen Stewart on Changing the K-12 Education Power Structure

/
This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard engage in a candid conversation about education policymaking with Citizen Stewart, Chief Executive Officer of Brightbeam.

CREDO’s Macke Raymond on Charter Schools’ Quality & Growth

/
CREDO's Margaret “Macke” Raymond joins "The Learning Curve" this week to discuss charter school performance; the types of charters that are succeeding consistently and replicating; and the formula for quality both in instruction and policymaking.

Cato's Neal McCluskey on School Choice & Educational Federalism

/
This week on "The Learning Curve" podcast, Cara Candal welcomes new co-host Gerard Robinson and guest Neal McCluskey, Director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom. They discuss America’s growing interest in school choice, and some of its many benefits.

Julie Young, Virtual Schooling Pioneer

/
Julie Young, CEO of ASU Prep Digital High School, joins The Learning Curve podcast this week to talk about the digital learning revolution.

Susan Wise Bauer on Classical Education & Homeschooling

/
This week on “The Learning Curve,” Bob Bowdon & guest co-host Kerry McDonald talk with Susan Wise Bauer, writer, historian, homeschool parent, and author of The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home, as well as numerous other books.

Dick Komer on Espinoza v. Montana & the Bigoted Legacy of Blaine Amendments

/
On this episode of “The Learning Curve,” Bob & Cara are joined by Dick Komer, Senior Attorney with the Institute for Justice. Komer led the oral argument this week before the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of the plaintiffs in the high-profile school choice case, Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue.

An Historic Moment for School Choice

Today, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) will hear oral arguments in the potentially landmark case, Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, which challenges a state constitutional amendment marked by religious bias.

Derrell Bradford on the Future of Education Reform

/
This week on “The Learning Curve,” Bob Bowdon is joined by guest host Alisha Thomas Cromartie, personal growth coach, education leader, and former Georgia state legislator. They talk with Derrell Bradford, Executive Vice President of 50CAN, about the future of education reform.

Montse Alvarado on Protecting Religious Liberty in Schools & Society

/
Montse Alvarado of the Becket Fund joins The Learning Curve podcast this week to discuss Becket's work to protect religious liberty in K-12 education, the upcoming U.S. Supreme Court school choice case, and more.

Lance Izumi on How Charters Are Meeting Diverse Learning Needs

/
Happy New Year! This week on "The Learning Curve," Cara and Bob talk with Lance Izumi, Senior Director of the Center for Education at the Pacific Research Institute, about his new book, Choosing Diversity.

Steven Wilson on Anti-Intellectualism in K-12 Education

/
Co-host Bob Bowdon talks with Steven Wilson, Founder and former CEO of Ascend Learning, a charter school network in Brooklyn, New York. They discuss the emergence of anti-intellectualism in K-12 schooling.

Jason Bedrick on Religious Freedom & Private School Autonomy

/
Bob and Cara talk with Jason Bedrick, EdChoice’s director of policy, about New York’s controversial “substantial equivalency” proposal that would give the state Department of Education oversight of school curricula at yeshivas and other private and parochial academies.

Join Us Nov. 21st: "U.S. Supreme Court Case – Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue"

/
Please join Pioneer Institute, the Institute for Justice, and Harvard University’s Program on Education Policy and Governance for a discussion about the potentially landmark school choice and religious liberty case currently before the U.S. Supreme Court.

NH Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut on State-Driven K-12 Reform

/
New Hampshire Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut joins "The Learning Curve" podcast this week, plus Bob & Cara break down the new NAEP results, and share education stories out of Denver and Detroit.

Education business ruled by teachers’ unions truly terrifying

/
This op-ed originally appeared in The Worcester Telegram &…