When the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that a voucher program in the state’s third largest school district violated the state’s Constitution, it left me confused (“Colorado Court Rules Use of Public Funds for Private Schools Is Unconstitutional,” The New York Times, Jun. 30). I thought that the U.S. Supreme Court in 2002 in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris had made it clear that vouchers pass muster as long as they go directly to parents, who can then choose the type of schooling they want for their children.
I realize that the Colorado ruling reflects the will of the people there. In 1992 and 1998, for example, voters rejected vouchers by an average landslide margin of 63.5 percent to 36.5 percent. But if the U.S. Constitution is the supreme law of the land, I’m at a loss to understand what has happened. I’m assuming now that the voucher program, which is called the Choice Scholarship Pilot Program, met the Zelman five-part test. If so, then how to explain the ruling?
Courtrooms are not supposed to be venues for popularity contests. They are places where the law alone is considered. That’s why the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision is so perplexing. But then again so are rulings in other states that to me have always been transparent end-runs. I’m referring to education savings accounts and tax-credit scholarships. There are currently 46 such programs in 23 states and the District of Columbia. For example, Florida is home to the nation’s largest tax-credit scholarship program (“How I Learned Not to Hate School,” The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 22, 2014). It is financed entirely by charitable contributions, which are offset by tax credits. As a result, its defenders claim that public funds are unaffected. But when people receive a tax credit, the amount represents dollars not paid in taxes.
Perhaps one day the issue of parental choice will finally be settled, whether in the form of vouchers or any other variant. Until then, I await clarification.
The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.