Montana, SCOTUS, and your kids

By Larry Sand
December 17, 2019

Americans are losing confidence that public schools will improve, but a Supreme Court case could pave the way to greater parental choice.

A recent in-depth survey by RealClearPolitics concludes that a majority of registered voters are dissatisfied with the performance of America’s education system and “have little confidence that public schools will improve any time soon.” One poll question asked how important it was for public schools to teach reading and writing, and 84 percent of registered voters said that it was. However, just 46 percent of respondents believe the schools are adequately handling that task.

Recent standardized test results seem to bear out the voters’ concerns. Despite spending more than ever on education, our National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores have barely budged in 20 years. And for African American kids in big cities, scores are heading south. In my home town of Los Angeles, the results were awful; its schools had the largest decline out of the 27 urban districts participating in the Trial Urban District Assessment project.

The news isn’t much better for PISA, which tests 15-year-olds around the world in mathematics, science, and reading every three years. The U.S. came in the middle here, ahead of Germany, Belgium and France, but behind Estonia, Singapore and Ireland.

All the education establishment can come up with as a fix for our education malaise is demand that we spend more money. At an interminable teacher union-sponsored televised presidential education forum this past Saturday, seven Democratic hopefuls droned on for over five hours, insisting that we must increase our education spending by billions and billions of dollars. Not one of the candidates dared mention that our current national education budget is $668 billion dollars, which puts us right at the top when compared to the rest of the world, second in per-pupil spending only to Norway.

But when you are hellbent on making teachers unions happy, real fixes – like giving parents the right to escape their zip-code mandated schools – are off the table. Speaking of which….

In December 2018, the Montana Supreme Court struck down the state’s tax credit program that allowed poor kids to use donated pre-tax money to attend private schools, including religious ones. (Very simply, tax-credit scholarships allow taxpayers to receive full or partial tax credits when they donate to nonprofits that provide private school scholarships for kids. Currently 250,000 students benefit from private-school choice through education tax credits nationwide.)

As Matthew Vadum explains, the Montana program “provided a dollar-for-dollar tax credit up to $150 matching an individual’s or a corporation’s donations to nonprofit student scholarship organizations.” But, according to the state court, it allowed the legislature to “indirectly pay tuition at private, religiously-affiliated schools,” which is contrary to Montana law. The ruling comes to us courtesy of Montana’s anti-Catholic Blaine Amendment, a variety of which exists in 36 other states, and is supported by the education establishment, notably the teachers unions.

The good news is that on January 22nd, the U.S. Supreme Court justices will hear oral arguments in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, which seeks to overturn the Montana court’s ruling. In two other similar cases, the Supreme Court has come down on the side of religious freedom. In the 2002 Zelman v. Simmons-Harris decision, SCOTUS ruled that because financial aid goes to parents and not the religious school, vouchers are indeed constitutional. Then, in 2017’s Trinity Lutheran Church v. Pauley, a Missouri church that was operating a daycare and pre-school applied to a state grant program that helps non-profits pay to install rubber playground surfaces. The state denied the church’s application because “the state constitution bars the state from providing funds to religious entities.” But Trinity Lutheran pursued the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where it prevailed.

With the Espinosa case, SCOTUS can once and for all get rid of the anti-God-based religious laws that unfortunately still permeate our country. The teachers unions interestingly have no problem promoting what amounts to secular religions: Our Lady of the Manmade Climate Change comes to mind. And the insanity behind forced co-ed bathrooms. And the strange notion of white fragility, et al.

Parents need to be the ultimate decision makers as to where their kids go to school, not an agenda-driven bunch of zealots – bureaucrats and union bosses – who have a completely different set of priorities. The Espinoza decision will probably not be announced until June. Please pray that the U.S. Supreme Court will again do the right thing.

 *   *   *

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

MORE GREAT ARTICLES