top of page




Educational freedom surges among Supremes

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

A growing mountain of data shows school-choice programs help spur improvement in public education.

There’s also a growing pile of Supreme Court decisions deeming states can’t discriminate against religious schools participating in such programs.

In Carson v. Makin – the court’s latest ruling on the issue – six of the nine justices agreed states can’t discriminate against private schools which include religious instruction in their curriculums if they subsidize others that don’t offer such teaching.

The case arose in Maine, which provides tuition assistance for children to attend private schools in that state’s rural sparsely populated areas; more than half of Maine’s school districts have no public high school.

The state’s education establishment wanted those dollars used to ensure students in these rural areas received a strictly secular education.

Historically, the state accomplished this by either assigning students to other public or private schools or by allowing tuition dollars to follow students to the schools they chose, along as the private schools chosen didn’t engage in religious instruction.

Two families challenged the system, saying tuition dollars should follow their children to private religious schools where the curriculum is “biblically base[d]” and religion “integrated through all content areas.”

Maine’s actions in denying tuition to schools simply because they’re religious or include faith-based teaching is clearly, as Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority, “discrimination against religion.”

The political left claims taxpayers who don’t adhere to the views contained in such teaching shouldn’t be forced to pay for them.

Yet the same crowd has no qualms about coercing taxpayers to fund public schools which diametrically oppose their views and values while keeping their mouths shut about it.

The new Supreme Court ruling follows a 2017 decision prohibiting Missouri from excluding a church’s participation in a grant program assisting non-profits installing playground equipment made from recycled tires and a judgment in 2020 that Montana can’t exclude private schools from public subsidies simply because they’re religious.

It’s too soon to know the new ruling’s impact on a legal case involving legislation passed last year by Kentucky lawmakers that creates education opportunity accounts funded by voluntary donations from individuals and businesses which can be used for private and parochial schools by qualifying families in the commonwealth’s largest counties.

But what should be clear is that the momentum in this nation – specifically in the courts – has shifted back toward a more constitutionally sound position – from funding systems to supporting families’ choices regarding the place best suited for children to learn, even if it happens to be a school with a biblical worldview.

Momentum for educational liberty in general is also surging in the political sphere.

When the Iowa House – controlled by Republicans – failed this year to pass a bill allowing for 10,000 scholarships annually for students with learning needs or who are in families with qualifying incomes, Gov. Kim Reynolds, a strong school-choice advocate, didn’t settle for a weak outcome in a political compromise.

Instead, Reynolds endorsed challengers to incumbent school-choice opponents in the primaries, including one who unseated the Iowa House Education Committee chair.

Kentucky voters’ determination to have stronger support for school choice in our state’s own Republican House appears to be strengthening as well.

Pro-school-choice challengers during Kentucky’s recent primary election succeeded in defeating GOP incumbents who were either lukewarm supporters or, in some cases, outright opponents of providing Kentucky parents with expanded educational options.

Considering the political momentum we’re seeing for school choice nationwide, that resolve could very well carry over to next year’s gubernatorial election in the Bluegrass State, just as happened in Virginia in its November 2021 election.

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.

More Articles: 

bottom of page