Religious Education and School Choice

U.S. Supreme Court to hear Montana school choice case.

Arlington, VA – On Wednesday, January 22, 2020, the Supreme Court of the United States will hear the arguments of what could be a landmark Supreme Court case testing the constitutionality of state laws that exclude religious organizations from government funding available to others. In this case, the issue rests on whether a scholarship fund supported by tax-deductible donations can help children attending the state’s private schools, most of which are religious.

Wednesday’s Supreme Court hearing was prompted by a Montana state legislation decision in 2015 to create a tax-credit program for those who wanted to donate to a scholarship fund. The program allowed dollar-for-dollar tax credits to those who donated up to $150 to an organization that provides aid to parents who want to send their children to private schools.

Following lengthy litigation on the constitutionality of the tax-credit program allowed for private schools that includes religious schools, the Montana Supreme Court struck down the program, stating Montana’s provision did not violate religious protections in the U.S. Constitution. Plaintiffs in support of the program pressed on saying the Montana restrictions violate the U.S. Constitution and the Montana Supreme Court’s decision to the contrary should not stand.

In solidarity with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) supports the concept of full and fair parental choice in education, which is supported by tax relief, voucher, scholarships and other aid to parents so they may seek the educational opportunities they want for their children.

Bishop Michael C. Barber, SJ of Oakland, chairman of the Committee on Catholic Education for USCCB recently expressed his appreciation for the Supreme Court’s reauthorization of the D.C. Scholarship program which benefits low-income students and can be directly linked to the January 22 arguments. “The Catholic Church has consistently taught that children have the universal right to an education, and that parents have the right and responsibility to serve as the primary educators of their children. The Church also teaches that the state has a fundamental obligation to support parents in fulfilling such a right.

The Supreme Court hearing on January 22, segues to the annual celebration of National Catholic Schools Week, January 26 – February 1, which also encompasses National School Choice Week. To date, the United States Supreme Court has made clear that parental choice is constitutional, unequivocally rejecting the claim that opportunity scholarships (“vouchers”) and scholarship tax credits violate the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. Together, the USCCB and NCEA encourage schools, parents, students, alumni and parish communities to show full support for school choice by participating in federal, state and local campaigns as part of National Catholic Schools Week and National School Choice Week.

Here are some ways to find more information and to show your support of school choice this week and during National Catholic Schools Week:

Catholic Schools Week information is available online. Use the hashtag #CSW20.

Celebrate Catholic Schools Week daily themes, including communicating the value of Catholic education to legislators.

Find ways to advocate for school choice.

For more information, visit www.NCEA.org and connect with NCEA on YouTube, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.

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In service of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, NCEA strengthens Catholic school communities by providing professional development, formation, leadership and advocacy.