September 2019 Church & State Magazine - September 2019

Supreme Court Accepts Montana School-Aid Case

  Rob Boston

The U.S. Supreme Court announced June 28 that it will hear a case from Montana that could have widespread implications for voucher plans and public school funding.

The case, Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, concerns a state tuition tax credit program that allows taxpayers to fund organizations that grant “scholarships” for students attending private schools, the majority of which are religious in Montana. Donors would then receive full credit on their tax bills. Critics say it’s a voucher-like plan that’s designed to funnel public money to private schools.

Montana’s Supreme Court struck the program down late in 2018, holding that it violated Article X, Section 6 of the Montana Constitution. That provision bars “any direct or indirect appropriation or payment from any public fund or monies … for any sectarian purpose or to aid any … school … controlled in whole or in part by any church, sect, or denomination.”

If the U.S. Supreme Court reverses that decision, state constitutional provisions that curb aid to religious institutions may be weakened or overturned entirely. This could result in even more tax money being siphoned away from public schools and into voucher plans.

The case will be heard during the high court’s 2019-2020 term, which begins next month. 

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