School Choice & Charters

School Voucher Advocates React to Supreme Court’s Trinity Lutheran Ruling

By Arianna Prothero — June 27, 2017 2 min read
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Private school voucher advocates have been closely following the case before the U.S. Supreme Court that dealt with the constitutionality of a state denying grant funds to a church solely because it was a religious institution.

But for those who hoped the Court’s ruling would dismantle a significant barrier to expanding voucher programs nationally, Monday’s decision was ambiguous.

Although the Court ruled in favor of Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Mo., which sought a state grant to resurface its preschool playground with recycled tire rubber, the narrow ruling did not address the broader prohibition written into Missouri’s—and many other states'—constitution that bans any public aid from going to religious institutions.

(For details on the ruling, see the story written by Education Week‘s Mark Walsh on the School Law Blog.)

Such prohibitions, generally called Blaine Amendments, are used to rule voucher programs unconstitutional at the state level and remain a major road block to expanding school voucher programs. Currently, 37 states have Blaine Amendments in their state constitutions. (Read more on Blaine Amendments and where they came from here.)

“We do not yet know how this standard might be applied to educational choice programs moving forward, but we are hopeful that this ruling might help knock down barriers in states that prohibit K-12 student from accessing faith-based schooling options,” said Leslie Hiner, the vice president of programs at Ed Choice, said in a statement.

Other voucher advocates are counting the High Court’s ruling as a solid win for their cause.

“We fully expect to see governors and legislatures have renewed discussions about school choice programs in their states in light of this momentous decision from the Supreme Court, and it is incredibly encouraging for families across the country that are demanding access to more educational options for their children,” Greg Brock, executive director for the American Federation for Children, said in a statement. “We hope to see future court cases address the broader issue at hand and, hopefully, strike down these discriminatory Blaine Amendments which deny far too many families the widest array of educational options for their children.”

Jeanne Allen, the founder and CEO of the Center for Education Reform called the ruling a “victory” and said that CER will “work to ensure that there will be other opportunities for the court to review the constitutionality of Baine Amendments.”

And former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush who is the founder of a pro-school choice advocacy group, said in a statement that “we are heartened that the Court has helped pave the way for expanding parental choice and providing more children access to a quality education.”

But some voucher opponents called the ruling a setback for school choice advocates. The president for the National Education Association, Lily Eskelsen Garcia, said in a statement that the country’s largest teachers’ union “applauded the Supreme Court’s refusal to accept the invitation of voucher proponents to issue a broad ruling that could place in jeopardy the ability of states to protect their public education system by refusing to divert public school funding to private religious schools.”

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Charters & Choice blog.