Private Schools & Vouchers: Implications from Recent Supreme Court Decision
June 30, 2017

What does a used tire recycling program have to do with school choice and state voucher policies? It could depend on what happens next. The Supreme Court of the United States handed down a 7-2 opinion in Trinity Lutheran v. Comer that could have far-reaching consequences for the constitutionality of state school voucher policies.

In Trinity, the court decided that the State of Missouri could not constitutionally deny Trinity Lutheran grant money to resurface their playground solely because they were a church. Missouri had a policy of categorically excluding religious organizations from the program. The Court’s 7-2 decision, although narrow in the sense that it only addressed the constitutionality of this tire recycling program, hints at how some members of the court would decide future challenges to similar policies that involve state Blaine Amendments, amendments that strictly prohibit public funding going to religious school in school choice programs.

Previously, the court has ruled that, under Blaine Amendments, states may allow private schools in voucher programs, but after Trinity, it seems there may be enough justices to support the proposition that states must include private schools in voucher programs—a major win for advocates of private school choice. Read below for a round-up of what some news outlets, education reformers, and legal scholars believe the decision’s impact will be on school choice at the state level.

  • Many voucher proponents are celebrating the opinion as a victory and believe it will revive discussions on state-led private school choice programs via EdWeek.
  • Professor Marty West says “states with Blaine Amendments that enact voucher programs that include religious schools should expect those programs to be challenged in the courts” via EducationNext.
  • Professor Frank Ravitch analyzes potential arguments in favor of the Blaine Amendments but ultimately concedes that the opinion “may very well open the door to requiring state and local governments to include religious entities in voucher programs” via SCOTUSBlog.
  • Erica Green notes the Supreme Court’s decision to remand a case from Colorado ruling a private school choice program unconstitutional indicates the Supreme Court believes there is a reasonable probability the case will be decided differently in light of the Trinity decision via the New York Times.

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