School choice is about providing children with the best education available, not supporting one school or religion over another.  The current government school system compels religious citizens to support schools that often do not reflect their values and beliefs.  School choice will allow parents to exercise their right and responsibility to direct the educational development of their children according to their own values, whether religious or secular.   

The Facts:

  • The "separation of church and state" has changing interpretations.  The phrase "separation of church and state" does not exist in any founding document of the United States, but was part of a letter that Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1802 to the Danbury Baptist Association in Danbury, Conn.  The Baptists had expressed concerns that the U.S. government might attempt to establish a state church.  Jefferson wrote to assuage their fear, stating that the First Amendment had built "a wall of separation between church and state" that prevented the government from establishing a church.  Later Supreme Court cases expounded on Jefferson's letter without citing the context of his statement.  It was not until the 1947 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Everson v. Board of Education that the phrase "separation of church and state" developed its present-day interpretation, the effects of which have been the virtual removal of religion from public life.[99] 

  • Supreme Court decisions have consistently supported parents' right to direct the education of their children.  The U.S. Supreme Court has consistently defended the right and responsibility of parents to direct the education of their children in such decisions as Pierce v. Society of Sisters (1925).  In this decision striking down Oregon's attempt to ban private schools, the Court ruled that

    the fundamental theory of liberty upon which all governments in this Union repose excludes any general power of the state to standardize its children by forcing them to accept instruction from public teachers only.  The child is not the mere creature of the state; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.[100]
    Other Supreme Court decisions affirming parental rights include Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972)[101] and Wolman v. Walter (1977).[102]

  • The U.S. Supreme Court and state Supreme Courts have declared that school choice does not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.  In Mueller v. Allen, the U.S. Supreme Court enunciated clearly the constitutionality of Minnesota's tax deduction for the costs of schooling, including private and religious education.[103]  In Luthens v. Bair, a U.S. District Court concluded that the Iowa tax deduction/tax credit was fully constitutional because "benefits . . . go to the parents of schoolchildren rather than to the schools" and ". . . the nature of the aid is clearly benign in terms of Establishment Clause concerns."[104]

    In June 1998, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled in Jackson v. Benson that parental school choice via taxpayer-funded vouchers was constitutional.[105]  The U.S. Supreme Court later let stand the Wisconsin court's decision by voting 8-1 not to review the case.  The contested voucher program now provides up to 15,000 poor Milwaukee students with a $4,000 state voucher to attend private religious schools.  This ruling is most notable because of Wisconsin's strict laws on church-state separation. 

    In 1999, the Arizona Supreme Court upheld a $500 per year per family tuition tax credit payable to non-profit, tax exempt school tuition organizations in Kotterman v. Killian.  The court concluded that the tax credit statute violated neither the U.S. nor the Arizona constitution.  The Arizona court opined, "According to Black's Law Dictionary, `public money' is `[r]evenue received from federal state, and local governments from taxes, fees, fines, etc.'  Black's Law Dictionary 1005 (6th ed. 1990).  As respondents note, however, no money ever enters the state's control as a result of this tax credit.  Nothing is deposited in the state treasury or other accounts under the management or possession of governmental agencies or public officials.  Thus, under any common understanding of the words, we are not here dealing with `public money.'"[106]

    In April 2000, the Illinois tax credit, which allows families to take a credit against state income taxes for 25 percent of expenses incurred on behalf of K-12 students at public and private schools, up to a maximum of $500 per family, was declared fully constitutional by Judge Thomas Appleton of the 7th Judicial Circuit Court.  "Money is not public until it belongs to the state," Appleton wrote.  "As taxes unpaid by taxpayers cannot be found to be money rightfully belonging to the state, any of that money which is used to pay for a child's parochial education is not public money, hence public support does not exist."[107]

  • Other well established, government-funded voucher programs are constitutional.  Food stamps and Medicaid are examples of voucher programs through which recipients can use government money at the grocery stores or hospitals of their choice.  Likewise, "public" money already flows to private and religious colleges and universities through various government loans and grants.  And veterans of World War II used the G.I. Bill to attend colleges of their choice—including religious institutions—and the federal government paid the tuition.

[99]       David Barton, "The Foundations of American Government," A Transcript of the Video and Audio by the Same Title (Aledo, TX: WallBuilder Press, 1993), pp. 8-10.

[100]       Pierce v. Society of Sisters; 268 U.S. 510, 535 (1925).

[101]      Wisconsin v. Yoder; 406 U.S. 205 (1972).

[102]      Wolman v. Walter; 433 U.S. 229, 262 (1977).

[103]       Mueller v. Allen; 463 U.S. 388 (1983).

[104]      Luthens v. Bair; 788 F.Supp. 1032 (S.D. la. 1992).

[105]     Jackson v. Benson; 218 Wis. 2d 835, *; 578N.W.2d 602, **; 1998 Wisc. LEXIS 70; and Matthew Robinson, "School Choice Goes To Court," Investor's Business Daily, June 11, 1998, p. A1.

[106]     Kotterman v. Killian, 1999 WL 27517 (Ariz. 1999).

[107]      Toney et al. v. Bower et al., 99 MR 413, IL 1,3, 7th jc (2000).

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