Yesterday’s monumental Supreme Court decision in favor of the plaintiffs—three mothers looking to use the state’s tax scholarship program to help cover the costs of attendance at a nondenominational Christian school—is a huge victory for school choice. The decision effectively overturns state Blaine Amendments, which have been used for centuries as a means to limit choice across the country.
The Blaine Game
Blaine Amendments prohibit government aid from going to schools with religious affiliations. These laws were enacted in states across the country during a wave of anti-Catholic bigotry in the mid-1800s, and 37 states have Blaine Amendments on the books. Some of these laws were enacted by states after the Civil War as a way to prevent Black families from accessing public funds to send their children to Christian schools.
Limiting Choice for Minority Students
Fast forward to today, and these laws still play a pivotal role in limiting educational options for minority students, with documented examples of this in Georgia and in New Mexico.
For many families, a religious school may be the only alternative to a failing traditional public school. And, without access to tax credit scholarship programs, tuition may make these schools unattainable for some families. The Supreme Court decision opens up opportunities for families to take advantage of these programs where they’ve been limited.
More Options Needed
But that brings us to a bigger issue: the overall lack of educational options. As previously mentioned, many families have turned to these tax credit scholarship programs because their only alternative to their failing assigned public school might be a religious private school.
Blaine Amendments have certainly been a long-standing barrier for families, but they aren’t the only one. State lawmakers rely on enrollment caps, inadequate funding, and other artificial barriers to limit parental choice.
While this decision is step in the right direction, there’s still so much work left to do to ensure all families have access to the educational choice that works best for their child. Every child is different, and no parent should be forced to send their child to a school that fails to meet their needs.