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Court affirms small program, fuels national movement

After the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that Montana cannot keep parents from using tax-credit scholarships to enroll children in religious schools, anti-school-choice opponents responded in apocalyptic fashion.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor branded the ruling “perverse” while teachers’-union darling Diane Ravitch lamented about how “the future of public education hangs in the balance.”

All this over a small school-choice program in out-of-the-way Montana which, according to Education Week, resulted in 40 families receiving $500 scholarships from a single nonprofit organization during the 2018-19 school year?

Yes, because the ruling removes a legal barrier used by opponents nationwide to intimidate states and prevent new school-choice options for parents who want a better education for their children.

What opponents of choice really want is, well, no parent-controlled choice.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg argued that the Montana Supreme Court, which ruled against parents wanting to use tax-credit scholarships provided by that state’s private school-choice policy to give their children a religious-based education – “remedied” the situation by shutting down the scholarship program entirely.“

Under that decree, secular and sectarian schools alike are ineligible for benefits, so the decision cannot be said to entail differential treatment based on petitioners’ religion,” Ginsburg wrote.

Such a statement represents how smugly satisfied school-choice opponents would be with absolutely no options for parents other than sending children to schools assigned by unknown bureaucrats based on zip codes rather than individual students’ needs.

Apparently, the only acceptable option for Ginsburg is: prevent parents from freely exercising their religion to enroll their children in a faith-based school using a tax-credit scholarship or eliminate all nonpublic options whatsoever – unless, of course, a parent has the financial means to write a big tuition check to a private religious school.

In fact, if political leftists had their way, no options – especially those involving conservative Christian schools – would be available, even to parents of means.

We’ve seen in Kentucky how the anti-choice crowd snarls against even a modest tax-credit scholarship bill filed in several legislative sessions which caps spending for the program and ensures the neediest students get placed at the front of the line.

Opponents claim they’re concerned that granting more educational freedom to parents will destroy public education.

Yet the public education system is still going strong in all 18 states which currently offer tax-credit scholarships, including some neighboring Kentucky.

Besides, if public schools are adequately educating all their students, why would a scholarship program allowing some families to send their child to religious schools pose such a threat?

Could it be that opponents know too many children get left behind in the traditional cookie-cutter system which can’t possibly prepare every child for future success, and that given the opportunity, parents of at least some of those children will pick a school that’s a better fit?

Too many foes of such educational freedom hold the perverted purview that poor parents who believe their children are failing to receive the education they need and deserve should just suck it up and accept the mediocrity and failure of the public system for “the common good.”

Yet what they label “the common good” is really a twisted collectivist – even socialistic – view which suppresses parents’ liberty to do what’s best for their children in favor of what educated fools deem progressive.

Many states, including Montana and Kentucky, have constitutional amendments on their books prohibiting public funds from being used to educate children in religious schools.

These amendments are rooted in malicious anti-Catholic bias of the 19th century when Protestants sought to deny Catholics the opportunity to get financial support for their schools.

Now, thanks to the court ruling, such virulent symbols of past religious oppression and hatred won’t be allowed to continue during the current reexamination of the flaws in our national heritage.

And, that just seems right.

Jim Waters is president and CEO of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at and @bipps on Twitter.

The Bluegrass Beacon is a weekly syndicated newspaper column posted on the Bluegrass Institute’s website after being published by newspapers statewide.

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