Espinoza Is a Boon for School Choice Nationwide

Libby Sobic:

Yesterday the Supreme Court of the United States handed down a landmark decision that will allow low-income parents across the country to send their children to private schools with their taxpayer dollars. In a 5–4 ruling, the Court decided in favor of Kendra Espinoza and two other mothers in their case brought by the Institute for Justice (IJ) against the Montana Department of Revenue.

Espinoza is a single mom who has wanted to send her two daughters to a religious school in Montana through the tax-credit scholarship program. Big Sky Scholarships provided families with a tax break if they contributed to charitable organizations that provide scholarships for students to attend private schools. The program was initially created to provide students with scholarships to attend any private school.

But soon after Big Sky started, Montana’s Department of Revenue declared that the scholarships could be used only for non-religious private schools. IJ filed this case on behalf of the Montana mom but lost in the Montana supreme court. The court shut down the entire tax-credit scholarship program, arguing that it was unconstitutional because it included religious options for parents and that it would be impossible to separate religious private schools from other private schools in this program.

Yesterday the Supreme Court held that “the application of the no-aid provision discriminated against religious schools and the families whose children attend or hope to attend them in violation of the Free Exercise Clause of the Federal Constitution.” In his majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts highlights that Montana’s program discriminated against religious schools because of the mere fact that they are religious: “Montana’s no-aid provision bars religious schools from public benefits solely because of the religious character of the schools. The provision also bars parents who wish to send their children to a religious school from those same benefits, again solely because of the religious character of the school.”

But with the Court ruling in favor of Espinoza, Montana families will be able to use the Big Sky Scholarship program to send their children to private schools, religious or not, which they otherwise could not afford. And even better: This victory reaches much farther than the 559 miles across Montana. It will allow states throughout the U.S. to provide assistance to families for private school through the creation of school-choice programs, including vouchers, tax scholarship programs, and education-savings accounts (ESAs).