The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a state-funded k-12 school scholarship program in Montana cannot exclude children who attend religious private schools, raising cheers among conservatives in Georgia where the ruling has implications for school funding.
At the center of the case is a tax credit program like the one in Georgia that sets aside $100 million for private school scholarships. In Montana, three mothers of children enrolled in a Christian school challenged a rule there that barred them from participating in the program, saying it violated their First Amendment rights.
The Montana Supreme Court disagreed and shut down the entire program. The appeal to the nation’s highest court drew support from Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr and the Georgia GOAL Scholarship Program. Most of the nearly 140 private schools participating in Georgia’s program are religious schools.
The 5-to-4 ruling concludes that states must allow religious schools to participate in these school aid programs. The court’s liberal justices dissented.
“A State need not subsidize private education. But once a State decides to do so, it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion.
Carr was part of a multistate coalition that defended Montana’s program and heralded the court’s decision as a win. The group had argued that if the Montana Supreme Court’s decision was not reversed, then other state courts might follow suit.
“The Montana Supreme Court ruling under review discriminated against and punished parents who chose to send their children to religious schools,” Carr said in a statement Tuesday.
“And approving it could have threatened school choice programs nationwide, depriving religious, low income and disabled children of a quality education of their choice,” he added. “We are glad to see the rule of law prevail.”
In Georgia, people who donate to a student scholarship organization receive a dollar-for-dollar tax credit through a decade-old program designed to help lower income students. Critics argue, though, that the program siphons money away from the state’s public schools and may not reach those who truly need the help.
Buzz Brockway, who is the vice president of public policy for the Georgia Center for Opportunity, said the ruling validates Georgia’s program.
“Much of the news media’s coverage of this has focused on the faith-based schools involved,” Brockway said in statement. “But what this is really about is the autonomy of parents to choose the best education for their children — whether it be at a faith-based institution or not. Ultimately, what the U.S. Supreme Court upheld in today’s decision is the right of parents to make the best educational choice for their child.”