Two Court Cases Plus Two Voucher Studies Equals Four School Choice Wins

June 26, 2017

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(Guest Post by Jason Bedrick)

There’s so much good news for school choice today, it’s hard to know where to begin.

A Legal Victory in the Peach State

I woke up this morning to the news that the Georgia Supreme Court had unanimously ruled that private donations to private nonprofit scholarship organizations that help children attend private schools are (shocker!) private funds, even if the donors receive a tax credit:

We also reject the assertion that plaintiffs have standing because these tax credits actually amount to unconstitutional expenditures of tax revenues or public funds. The statutes that govern the Program demonstrate that only private funds, and not public revenue, are used.

I discuss the case and its implications in greater detail here.

SCOTUS Strikes Down Discrimination Against Religion — But Saves Blaine for Another Day

A couple hours later, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in Trinity Lutheran v. Missouri that it is unconstitutional to exclude religious organizations from benefiting from secular aid programs that are otherwise neutral with respect to religion. As Neal McCluskey explains, the court didn’t go as far as many school choice advocates would have liked, but it is unambiguously a step in the right direction. Writing for the majority, Justice Roberts wrote:

It is true the Department has not criminalized the way Trinity Lutheran worships or told the Church that it cannot subscribe to a certain view of the Gospel. But, as the Department itself acknowledges, the Free Exercise Clause protects against “indirect coercion or penalties on the free exercise of religion, not just outright prohibitions.” […] As the Court put it more than 50 years ago, “[i]t is too late in the day to doubt that the liberties of religion and expression may be infringed by the denial of or placing of conditions upon a benefit or privilege.” […]

Trinity Lutheran is not claiming any entitlement to a subsidy. It instead asserts a right to participate in a government benefit program without having to disavow its religious character. The “imposition of such a condition upon even a gratuitous benefit inevitably deter[s] or discourage[s] the exercise of First Amendment rights.” […] The express discrimination against religious exercise here is not the denial of a grant, but rather the refusal to allow the Church—solely because it is a church—to compete with secular organizations for a grant. [citations removed]

The Court made sure to note that it was not overturning Locke v. Davey, in which the Court held that it did not violate the Free Exercise Clause for the state of Washington to deny funding to a student who was attending a post-secondary religious school to pursue a “devotional theology degree.” Although the “selective funding program” generally allowed students to attend both religious or secular colleges, the funds couldn’t be used to pursue a purely religious education for the purposes of becoming a religious minister. In Trinity, SCOTUS clarified that “Davey was not denied a scholarship because of who he was; he was denied a scholarship because of what he proposed to do—use the funds to prepare for the ministry.”

Left open is the question of whether the state can prohibit families from using school vouchers at religious schools. If the voucher program is intended to give parents more choices among schools that teach reading, math, science, etc., then seemingly it shouldn’t matter whether school that teach those subjects have a religious affiliation. Indeed, Justices Gorsuch and Thomas clearly indicated they wished the majority had gone further (“the general principles here do not permit discrimination against religious exercise—whether on the playground or anywhere else”), while Justice Breyer likened the playground resurfacing program at issue in the case to churches benefiting from police or fire protection, but saw no need to address the question of private school tuition. Tomorrow SCOTUS will announce whether it will consider the Douglas County, Colorado voucher case, which would give it the opportunity to answer that question.

Louisiana and Indiana Voucher Studies: Neutral to Positive Outcomes After a Few Years

I’ve already run long and I know that others will be writing about them soon, so I won’t dive deep into the Louisiana and Indiana voucher studies today. In short, they each find that the negative impacts on test scores that voucher students experience in the first couple years of participating in a voucher program disappear by the third year. Indeed, Indiana finds some positive effects in years three and four.

Given that states spend significantly less per pupil on voucher students than at district schools, performing as well or better after just a few years in the program should be exciting news for choice supporters. However, I confess that I am uneasy. Both Indiana and Louisiana mandate that private schools administer the state test to voucher students and I am concerned about how that mandate might warp how schools educate children — a concern I have about both district and private schools. Test scores measure only a small slice of the value that parents want schools to provide their children, and as Jay pointed out yet again yesterday, there’s a disconnect between educational measures and life outcomes. It’s great if school choice improves test scores, but the ability to choose shouldn’t be predicated on raising test scores — especially if doing so creates perverse incentives that distort education.

In summary: Three cheers for the court victories and one cheer for the voucher studies.

 

 


Indy Voucher Spaces Crunch

May 6, 2014

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Make sure to read this article on Indy voucher kids running out of space.  Amid the discussion of equalizing funding and facility funding lies  an interesting little nugget: Indiana has 900 private schools but only 300 take scholarship kids.

So to get more spaces, perhaps someone ought to conduct a survey to learn whether any changes in the law might result in some of the 2/3 of non-participant schools deciding to join.  I would never expect anything close to 100% participation (it’s a free country after all) but having that 2/3 to 1/3 split would be nice to go the other direction.

 

 


BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM!!!!!!!!!

April 21, 2011
Maybe this one Greg?
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)
 
Colorado, Arizona, Washington DC and now…word has arrived that Indiana legislators have sent what will become the nation’s largest voucher program to Governor Daniels for signature. I will update with details when available.
 
Huge win for the school choice movement, and especially for the Foundation for Educational Choice (nee Friedman Foundation).
 
4 down, 3 to go…
 

UPDATE: Friedman Foundation Press Release below. Still requires House approval, but also expands pre-existing tax credit program and creates a new tax deduction for private school expenses. It may soon be 6 down, 1 to go…

Indiana Senate Passes Nation’s Largest Voucher Bill

INDIANAPOLIS, IN — The Indiana Senate today passed legislation that would create the nation’s broadest school voucher program, allowing low- and middle-income families to use taxpayer funds to send their children to the private school of their choice.

House Bill 1003, which was approved by the Senate in a 28-22 vote, would create a new scholarship program enabling families to send their children to the private school of their choice. Scholarship amounts are determined on a sliding scale based on income, with families receiving up to 90 percent of state support.

The Indiana House of Representatives previously approved a similar version of the bill by a vote of 56-42. The Senate version, which adds a $1,000 tax deduction for families that pay out of pocket for private or homeschool expenses, will now go back to the House. If the House agrees to the changes made in the Senate, the bill will proceed to Governor Daniels, who is expected to sign the bill into law.

“This is exciting news,” said Robert Enlow, President and CEO of the Foundation for Educational Choice. “We applaud those legislators who stood tall for kids, and we hope the House will concur as soon as possible so that Indiana families who desperately need educational options do not have to wait any longer.”

If enacted, the voucher would be available to far more students than other programs in the country, where vouchers are limited to low-income households, students in failing schools, or special-needs students. Under HB 1003, a family of four earning up to $61,000 per year would be eligible.

Additionally, the $1,000 tax deduction for private and homeschool expenses has universal eligibility. The bill also improves Indiana’s scholarship tax credit program by increasing the program cap to $5 million, making $10 million in scholarships available to Hoosier families.


Big Day for Parental Choice

March 31, 2011

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Yesterday the Indiana House passed  a bill to create what seems likely to become the nation’s largest school voucher program, and to improve and expand their preexisting tuition tax credit law. On the same day, the United States House voted to reauthorize the DC Opportunity Scholarship program.

Indiana is poised to do something very special. Under the leadership of Governor Daniels and Superintendent Bennett, they are on the cusp of pushing through major Florida reforms: transparency with teeth (A-F school grading), action against social promotion and parental choice. The rest of us are going to have to pick up our games to try to keep pace.

The long-suffering DC Opportunity Scholarship Program children have suffered through the trials of Job. Kudos to Speaker Boehner for putting his back into delivering a happy ending for these kids!

Hold tight reform fans…the best is yet to come.