The Supreme Court handed a win to conservatives on Tuesday, ruling that a Montana law that blocked religious schools from a taxpayer-funded scholarship violated the U.S. Constitution. Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the conservative members of the Court in a decision that will allow parents to use state tax credits to send their kids to religious schools.
It all started in 2015, when the Montana Legislature passed a bill that provides tax credits to people who donate to organizations that give scholarship money to private school students. Big Sky was one particular organization that started using the tax credit as an incentive to raise money, and 12 of the 13 schools it provided scholarship money for were religious schools (NPR points out that the majority of private schools in Montanna are religious).
The Montana Supreme Court struck the entire law down, saying the state’s constitution doesn’t allow state aid for religious schools. But school choice advocates seized on the opportunity, appealing to the Trump Administration and U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos — a well-known supporter of school-choice and faith-based education.
Critics say that providing taxpayer funds for religious schools complicates the separation of church and state. Teacher unions also cited concerns about pulling more tax dollars from public schools, which are struggling as is. But the U.S. Supreme Court has ultimately sided with school choice advocates, who say withholding such funds can amount to discrimination against the free exercise of religion.
“The prohibition before us today burdens not only religious schools but also the families whose children attend or hope to attend them,” Roberts said. “Drawing on ‘enduring American tradition,’ we have long recognized the rights of parents to direct ‘the religious upbringing’ of their children. Many parents exercise that right by sending their children to religious schools, a choice protected by the Constitution.”