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Arizona school choice advocates hail Supreme Court decision

The United States Supreme Court Building in Washington, D.C.

(The Center Square) – A recent U.S. Supreme Court decision regarding education in Montana validates Arizona’s school voucher and tax credit program, school choice advocates say.

Late last month, the Supreme Court ruled that a Montana tax credit program that provides scholarship money to parents to send their children to private schools cannot exclude religious schools from the program.

The ruling echoes a 2011 decision by the Supreme Court in regards to Arizona’s education system.

In question was a program that gives taxpayers a dollar-for-dollar credit for money donated to organizations that provide private and parochial school scholarships. About $192 million was raised through these credits in 2018.

In the Arizona Constitution, as well as the Montana Constitution and those of 36 other states, taxpayer dollars were prohibited from going to religious schools.

But in the Montana case, the Supreme Court ruled that such restrictions discriminated against families who wanted to or chose to attend private schools.

In Arizona’s case, in 2011, the Supreme Court ruled that taxpayers had no legal right to challenge a tax break that supported private religious schools.

Since, Arizona has enacted a state voucher program that allows parents to send their children to private and parochial schools.

Arizona’s “private school choice programs have already won rulings at the Arizona Supreme Court level allowing parents to access religious schools through both the Corporate Tuition Tax Credit Program (dollar-for-dollar tax credit) as well as the Empowerment Scholarship Account Program,” Steve Smith, Arizona state director at American Federation for Chlidren, told The Center Square.

The state Court of Appeals has ruled that this voucher program, or empowerment scholarship accounts, does not violate the constitutional amendment that says tax dollars cannot be used for religious worship or instruction.

“Empowerment Scholarship Accounts are funded through state education dollars that are allocated to every Arizona child,” Smith said. “Also it’s worth noting that the ESA program gives parents many more options to choose from than just religious-based private schools. Besides religious schools, ESAs can be used to home-school, which many special needs families choose, or pay for online schools, or pay for tutors and therapists, or pay for specialized private schools that are non-secular like a school for autistic children.”

In Arizona, a pending initiative aims to limit the number of vouchers available to one percent of the state’s public school population, setting the cap at around 11,000.

“We are so happy that dozens more states will now have the opportunity to engage in a real conversation about giving families more education options that best fit their needs,” Smith said about the Montana ruling. “We have fought and won similar battles in Arizona throughout the years and it has resulted in our state leading the way when it comes to having robust and thriving private school choice programs that give low-income or disadvantaged families every educational option, that of course includes their right to access private religious schools if they so choose. This is a huge victory for families, outside of Arizona, across the country and a tremendous milestone in the history of the school choice movement.”

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