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SCOTUS Ruling Could Have a Major Impact on Federal Money Going to Private Schools

Proponents of school choice have long proposed policies which would one way or another direct public dollars to private schools. And they secured a major win on Tuesday when the US Supreme Court made rulings on two cases this week in Missouri and Colorado that will likely have a sizeable impact on the country’s entire public and private education systems alike.

The June 26 ruling that a church-run preschool in Missouri cannot be denied from participating in a state-funded program to resurface its playground marked the first win for school choice advocates.

That win was only strengthened a day later when the court tossed out a lower court's ruling that prohibited the use of public funds -- or vouchers -- to pay for families to send their children to attend private religious schools in Colorado’s Douglas County school district.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts wrote for the majority which included two of the court’s more liberal judges, Elena Kagan and Stephen G. Breyer, and said the Missouri ruling against helping the church-run preschool “expressly discriminates against otherwise eligible recipients by disqualifying them from a public benefit solely because of their religious character.”

Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg argued that the issue of a playground getting resurfaced was not the conflict, but that the decision blurred the lines of church and state, with Sotomayor calling it a “radical mistake.”

The court’s recent rulings are being seen as a considerable victory concerning the future of school choice. The controversial topic is seen by some parents as the embodiment of educational freedom, while its opponents argue that it will only hurt public schools and disadvantaged students.

Currently families have the option of sending their children to free public schools or paying out-of-pocket for private education. A controversial official federal school-choice system would allow families to choose to send their children to private schools, while using federal funds to lessen the financial burden.  

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has been a prominent supporter of school choice in her home state of Michigan. President Trump has backed up DeVos’ sentiments and has advocated for putting the “power in the hands of parents and families.”

The Douglas County School District outside of Denver argued that the voucher program that helped pay tuition costs at religiously-affiliated public schools would have a positive impact and boost competition within public schools. The school district was challenged by a group called Taxpayers For Public Education, backed by the American Civil Liberties Union, who argued that it went against a provision in the state’s constitution that barred directing public funds to religious organizations.

Opponents of school choice claim that voucher programs are hurtful to the country overall, arguing they don’t offer any real concrete benefits to the nation’s troubled public school system.

The Supreme Court’s Colorado and Missouri rulings likely won’t be the end of the school choice debate by any means, but for the time being, the pendulum has swung in the favor of advocates like DeVos.


Article by Joel Stice, Education World Contributor

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