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:

EdChoice’s VP Leslie Hiner on Landmark SCOTUS Decisions for School Choice

This week on “The Learning Curve," co-hosts Cara Candal and Gerard Robinson talk with Leslie Hiner, Vice President of Legal Affairs and Director of Legal Defense & Education Center with EdChoice. They discuss the the landmark U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) decision in Brown v. Board of Education, among the most important in the nation’s history, and how Brown’s call for racial access and equity in K-12 education has helped inform the work and advocacy of the school choice movement.

Linda Chavez on Hispanic Immigration, Assimilation, & Civic Education in America

This week on “The Learning Curve," co-host Cara Candal talks with Linda Chavez, a senior fellow at the National Immigration Forum and the author of Out of the Barrio: Toward a New Politics of Hispanic Assimilation. 

Parent Advocate Virginia Walden Ford on Civil Rights, School Choice, & the D.C. Voucher Program

This week on “The Learning Curve," co-host Gerard Robinson and guest co-host Derrell Bradford talk with Virginia Walden Ford, education advocate and author of Voices, Choices, and Second Chances, and School Choice: A Legacy to Keep. She shares her experiences growing up and desegregating high schools in Little Rock, Arkansas in the mid-1960s, and the lessons she carried forward in her school choice advocacy in Washington, D.C.

Andrew Campanella on National School Choice Week

This week on “The Learning Curve," co-hosts Gerard Robinson and Cara Candal talk with Andrew Campanella, the president of National School Choice Week. They discuss why 2021 was called the “Year of School Choice,” and the implications of more academic options for K-12 education reform across America.

Study Finds Massachusetts Would Benefit from Adopting Education Savings Accounts

Massachusetts provides fewer options for students to be educated outside their assigned school districts than most other states do, and educational savings accounts (ESAs) offer an effective tool for giving students additional opportunities, according to a new study published by Pioneer Institute.

AEI’s Ian Rowe on School Leadership, Civic Education, & Upward Mobility

This week on “The Learning Curve," co-hosts Gerard Robinson and Cara Candal talk with Ian Rowe, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, where he focuses on education and upward mobility, family formation, and adoption.

Virtual Learning Grows During COVID

Virtual learning in K-12 education continues to grow due to the health threat caused by coronavirus variants and the assistance this learning model can provide to at-risk students, according to two papers released today by Pioneer Institute.

Institute for Justice’s Michael Bindas on the SCOTUS Oral Arguments

This week on “The Learning Curve," co-hosts Gerard Robinson and Cara Candal talk with Michael Bindas, a senior attorney with the Institute for Justice, who represents the lead plaintiffs in the U.S. Supreme Court case, Carson v. Makin.

Pioneer Institute Files Amicus Curiae Brief in U.S. Supreme Court School Choice Case

Pioneer Institute has filed an amicus curiae brief in Carson v. Makin urging the Supreme Court of the United States to strike down a provision of Maine law. The Court will hear oral arguments in Carson this morning (December 8) at 10 am. The Maine law being challenged allows districts that don’t have their own schools to contract with a school or pay for students that choose to attend public or private schools, but explicitly excludes religious schools.

Urban Institute’s Dr. Matthew Chingos on the Year of School Choice & the Student Loan Debt Crisis

This week on “The Learning Curve," co-hosts Gerard Robinson and Cara Candal talk with Dr. Matthew Chingos, who directs the Center on Education Data and Policy at the Urban Institute. They discuss the “Year of School Choice,” the welcome 2021 trend of states across America expanding or establishing private school choice programs; as well as the student debt crisis in higher education.

Lipan Apache Tribe’s Pastor Robert Soto on Native American Heritage Month & Religious Liberty

This week on “The Learning Curve," co-hosts Gerard Robinson and Cara Candal talk with Pastor Robert Soto, a Lipan Apache religious leader and award-winning feather dancer who has successfully upheld his Native American cultural heritage and religious liberties in federal courts. As the country celebrates Native American Heritage Month, Pastor Soto shares his personal journey as a religious leader and describes the Lipan Apache Tribe.

Maine Tries to Ignore a Clear Supreme Court Ruling on Education

As the U.S. Supreme Court takes up Carson v. Makin, the facts are clear. Maine has chosen to subsidize private education. As such, it cannot disqualify all religious schools from receiving public dollars under its school choice program.

Match Charter Public School Founder Mike Goldstein on School & Teacher Prep Reform

This week on “The Learning Curve," co-hosts Gerard Robinson and Cara Candal talk with Mike Goldstein, the founder of the MATCH Charter School and MATCH Teacher Residency in Boston.

ASU’s Julie Young, Virtual Schooling Pioneer, on Digital Learning during COVID-19

This week on “The Learning Curve," co-host Cara Candal talks with Julie Young, ASU Vice President of Education Outreach and Student Services, and Managing Director of ASU Prep Academy and ASU Prep Digital. They discuss the implications of COVID-19’s disruption of American K-12 education and the future of digital learning.

The Institute for Justice’s Michael Bindas on the SCOTUS, Carson v. Makin, & Expanding School Choice

This week on “The Learning Curve," co-hosts Cara Candal and Gerard Robinson talk with Michael Bindas, a senior attorney with the Institute for Justice (IJ). They discuss IJ’s 2020 landmark U.S. Supreme Court win in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, and its implications for state Blaine Amendments, bigoted legal barriers that have blocked religious liberty and school choice for over a century, as well as the Maine school tuitioning case, Carson v. Makin, which was recently granted certiorari.

Nina Rees on the 30th Anniversary of Charter Public Schools in America

This week on “The Learning Curve," Gerard and Cara celebrate the 30th anniversary of charter schools with Nina Rees, President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Blended Learning Expert Heather Staker on Student-Centered Lessons During COVID-19

This week on “The Learning Curve," Gerard and Cara talk with Heather Staker, founder and president of Ready to Blend. They discuss her work with the late Harvard Professor Clayton Christensen and Michael Horn on disruptive innovation and schooling, as well as her book, Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools, and her recent publication, Developing a student-centered workforce through micro-credentials. 

Heritage Foundation’s Jonathan Butcher on Edu Federalism, School Choice, Learning Pods

This week on “The Learning Curve," Gerard and Cara talk with Jonathan Butcher, the Will Skillman Fellow in Education at The Heritage Foundation. They discuss the growing popularity of learning pods, an education innovation propelled by K-12 public education’s failure to meet the COVID-19 moment. With as many as three million children enrolled in learning pods, 35 percent of parents participating in them, and another 18 percent interested in joining one, Butcher shares findings from his report on the role of pods in expanding parent-driven educational choice options.