Eight years after declaring school vouchers to be constitutional, the U.S. Supreme Court is assessing version 2.0 of school choice efforts: tax credits.
The Court heard oral arguments November 3 over the constitutionality of Arizona's dollar-for-dollar tax credits for those who give money to scholarship organizations, most of which benefit religious schools. Some Arizona taxpayers argue that this setup violates the First Amendment.
"People have moved to tax credits versus vouchers because it's easier as a political matter to convince legislatures," said Eric Rassbach, national litigation director at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. "It has definitely been a trend in school choice movements."
Supporters believe the Court will uphold the credits because the government doesn't decide where the money goes. Opponents argue the credits disproportionately help religious schools.
If the Court allows the credits, it will solidify similar incentives in 13 other states, said Rassbach. If it strikes them down, the ruling will have a "devastating" effect on charitable deductions, tax exemptions for religious organizations, and any other tax treatment that "disproportionately" benefits religious organizations, he said.
It would also be devastating for the 28,000 students who split $55 million in scholarships last year, said Robert Enlow, president and CEO of the Foundation for Educational Choice, a leading vouchers advocate.
The tax credits have had "far [greater] impact for religious schools than you'd think," Enlow said. "Eighty percent of private schooling in America is currently religious, so the primary beneficiaries of children armed with choice will be religious private schools."
But the growth has been less effective than Jeff Blamer, director of membership for Christian Schools International (CSI), would have hoped because of the lobbyist pressure of teachers' unions.
"I could not tell you any CSI school that is benefiting from a voucher [or tax credit] program," said Blamer, whose organization serves 500 Reformed schools.
Examining how tax credits have benefited Christian schools is not the right way to look at the situation, he said. "That's where the rub comes, because then you get into the game of constitutionality," he said. "Support for religious institutions with government dollars cannot be done."
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Previous articles on school choice include:
Breaking Up a Monopoly | The Supreme Court has put parents back in charge of their children's education.
Florida School Voucher Plan Struck Down by State Judge | Church-state issues not addressed in ruling. (March 1, 2000)
Voucher Victory | School-choice advocates win in Wisconsin, but can the movement gain momentum? (September 7, 1998)
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