SCOTUS Approves State Tuition Aid For Students To Attend Religious Schools

People gather outside the Supreme Court building as the court hears oral arguments in the Espinoza v. Montana Dept. of Revenue case in Washington, U.S., January 22, 2020. REUTERS/Sarah Silbiger.

This opinion just came down, and I haven’t had an opportunity to read it, and probably won’t until tomorrow.  In Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, the justices held that the application of the Montana Constitution’s “no-aid” provision to a state program providing tuition assistance to parents who send their children to private schools discriminated against religious schools and the families whose children attend or hope to attend them, in violation of the free exercise clause.  This was a straight conservatives vs. liberals majority, and Chief Justice Roberts, much maligned of late, wrote the majority opinion. The Washington Post  reports,

Chief Justice John G. Roberts …said the Montana Supreme Court was wrong to strike down the program because of a provision in the state constitution that forbids public funds from going to religious institutions. The U.S. Constitution’s protection of religious freedom prevails, he said.

“A state need not subsidize private education,” Roberts wrote. “But once a state decides to do so, it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious.

Again, I haven’t read the legal arguments, but the ethical justification for the opinion is clear. If public schools could be trusted not to indoctrinate students with political view and social positions that their parents might oppose, the urgency of the state providing affordable alternatives would be far less. However, alert and involved parents realize, or should, that by sending students to public schools, they are too often subjecting them to partisan and ideological brain-washing, and we are seeing the results in the streets as I write this. There need to be alternatives other than home-schooling. The ethics principles here are fairness, respect, and autonomy.

Anecdotally, the experiences my wife and  I had with private schools and a religious school to avoid the wretched public schools in Alexandria, Virginia were not good, which is why we resorted to home-schooling. One private school showed bias against boys to the point of psychological abuse. Another was overtly ideological in its instruction. The religious school, which we tried as a last resort following assurances that the religious instruction would be minimal, was operated like a Soviet military school, and we extracted our son by New Years. Then he briefly attended the city’s massive and fabled public high school, T.C. Williams, where he was robbed twice in a month, and reported that none of the classes ever started on time because it took up to 20 minutes for teachers to quiet the class.


4 thoughts on “SCOTUS Approves State Tuition Aid For Students To Attend Religious Schools

  1. Where does government get the idea that taxpayer funded education for grades K-12 means only one supplier of such goods.

    Typically, government provides goods and services when there is a market failure. In education many options exist.

    Government cannot argue that students outside of public schools do not receive the same level of academic rigor when non-public school educated students, on average, to better on scholastic testing and achieve higher ACT and SAT scores.

    I believe Baltimore City’s proficiency rates is approaching zero at a cost of 20,000 plus per student pet year. I bet you could find many who could teach a few kids the same age for 20K apiece and get better results.

    This is a win not for Republicans it is a win for families with kids who are stuck in failed schools.

    Here is a question I would like to ask,every politician who campaigns on more money for education. If current expenditures are insufficient to attract the best and the brightest how many existing teachers need to be fired because they are not close to being the best and the brightest? And, if we don’t provide more money why should we keep incompetent teachers and who are the incomptent ones at your school?

  2. In addition to so many of Chris’s brilliant observations, he posted these comments:

    “Where does government get the idea that taxpayer funded education for grades K-12 means only one supplier of such goods.”


    “I believe Baltimore City’s proficiency rates is approaching zero at a cost of 20,000 plus per student pet year. I bet you could find many who could teach a few kids the same age for 20K apiece and get better results.”

    Chris is spot on when he asks why taxpayer funded schools are the only supplier of goods or services. In a market economy, the consumer gets to decide when, where, and how of his/her money is spent on such goods and services. The government shouldn’t be mandating it. That is especially true when the goods offered are fundamentally changed in midstream performance. COVID-19 scuttled the schools and the bast majority of them shut down in mid-March in response to the pandemic. That means by school taxes, which I pay as a component of the cost of home ownership, were not spent on the entire year. Houston Independent School District provided for online learning, but the instruction was optional based on some idea that all of the students didn’t have access to high speed internet or appropriate computers to join classes. Grades were essentially frozen at the mid-March level. I didn’t get a proportionate refund on my taxes, though. I did see that the schools offered meals on wheels to the “poor” and less fortunate, who could line up at 7:00 a.m. each morning in their expensive cars and get loads of food every day. And don’t get me started about the cell phones used by those unfortunate people. . .

    Chris’s second point also brought to mind some pearls of wisdom recently issued by none other than Rep. Ilhan Omar when she discussed reconsidering policing practices and defunding the police. She was asked if the current Minneapolis police force (and by extension,every other police force) could be rehabilitated. Her response (paraphrased by little ol’ me) was, “Look, if the system is broken beyond repair, there is no amount of money to be spent that will fix it. It is better to shut it down and start over, with an eye toward reallocation resources in community building rather than community policing.”

    Why, then. doesn’t that analysis apply to failing schools? If the students graduating from high school are not functioning at a 12th grade level in reading, math, sciences, and comprehension, then why should people continue throwing good money after bad to fix a system broken beyond repair? And, by extension, why are minorities and poorer communities required to expect less than a proper education for their children? Why are minorities or poorer communities saddled with school systems that continually and constantly fail them? Should we expect minority and poorer communities to accept and pay for the local transmission repair shop that can’t fix a transmission to save its life, leaving their cars unworkable?


  3. I have read the decision and agree with it. The strongest point the dissents had was that the Montana Supreme Court’s decision to end the program completely made the question moot, and I’m still waffling over where the majority was right on this particular point, although I tend to think so.

    According to the Supreme court of Montana, It couldn’t meet both the Montana constitutional requirement not to fund religions in any ways and the federal requirement that it not discriminate according to the state supreme court. The department of revenue created a rule that wasn’t present in the statute, and that was source of case. No one had raised the possibility that the law was inherently unconstitutional at the state level.

    • Note that i haven’t read the original Montana decision, and may be misremembering their exact reasoning as summarized in the federal appeal.

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