MIDLAND, MICH. — The Mackinac Center Legal Foundation has submitted an amicus brief to the United States Supreme Court in the case Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue. The amicus brief highlights the need for better educational options in Michigan by focusing on a data-driven case study on Detroit.
Espinoza v. Montana looks at whether offering viewpoint-neutral student aid programs violates the establishment of religion clause or the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution. These scholarship programs can help parents offset the cost of tuition at private schools. The case will be heard during the 2019-20 term, and a ruling is expected by June 2020.
The case’s lead plaintiff, Kendra Espinoza, who is represented by the Institute for Justice, was denied access to scholarships that would have helped lower the costs of her children’s education. The reason: Montana’s 130-year-old Blaine amendment. Blaine amendments exist in many states, including Michigan, and are rooted in anti-Catholic sentiment. They were created to prohibit states from giving public funds toward education that takes place at parochial schools, and they now stand in the way of parents who seek educational choice.
“These anti-aid amendments are used by the courts to prevent private school choice programs in various states. Michigan’s Blaine amendment, passed in 1970, has the most restrictive anti-aid language and seeks to include any nonpublic school, not just religious ones,” said Patrick Wright, author of the brief and vice president for legal affairs at the Mackinac Center. “By ruling in favor of Espinoza, the Supreme Court could remove the remaining legal obstacles that prevent families across the country from using school choice.”
The Mackinac Center brief focuses on Detroit, which over the last decade has consistently performed the worst of all cities on the National Assessment of Educational Performance’s Trial Urban District Assessment. Fourth- and eighth-grade students in the Detroit district have taken math and reading assessments every other year, starting in 2009, for a total of 20 tests. In every instance, fewer than 10% of students scored as proficient.
“Many Michigan families seeking to take charge of their children's education are blocked by a formidable legal wall in our state constitution. Nowhere is that serious challenge more evident than in Detroit,” said Ben DeGrow, director of education policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. “A favorable Espinoza ruling, tearing down that wall, would expand opportunity and give hope to students who most need access to quality education options.”
The Wall Street Journal called the Mackinac Center the nation’s “leading advocate for a universal education tax credit.” Including the publication of a groundbreaking 1997 report, the Mackinac Center has long promoted the adoption of tuition tax credits, like Montana and 17 other states since have done, as a means to expand parental choice.
More information about the case can be found here.
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