The latest trend in school voucher programs is for states to provide “opportunity scholarships” in the form of tax credits. The details vary slightly from state to state, but the idea is this: in exchange for contributing toward a student’s tuition at an elementary or secondary school, a taxpayer will receive an equal tax credit from the government. Essentially, this means taxpayer funds are available for private school tuition, including at religious schools.
In his State of the Union address on Tuesday night, President Donald Trump touted these voucher programs and urged Congress to pass similar legislation at the federal level.
Here is an excerpt from that portion of his remarks:
…[F]or too long, countless American children have been trapped in failing government schools. To rescue these students, 18 states have created school choice in the form of Opportunity Scholarships. The programs are so popular that tens of thousands of students remain on a waiting list.
Now I call on Congress to [p]ass the Education Freedom Scholarships and Opportunities Act — because no parent should be forced to send their child to a failing government school.
The legislation he referenced, H.R. 1434, would create dollar-for-dollar federal tax credits up to 10% of an individual and 5% of a corporation’s taxable income for payments toward a child’s private school tuition. The bill explicitly includes religious school tuition as eligible for the tax payments.
Opportunity scholarships present all of the same religious liberty problems that school vouchers do. Using taxpayer funds for religious education is a bad idea for both the church and the state.
BJC Executive Director Amanda Tyler explained how dangerous this idea is, and compared it to a case currently before the Supreme Court in her Twitter thread responding to the president’s proposal:
President pushing for astounding tax giveaway that results in massive subsidy of private, including religious, education. Trump has proposed $5 billion ($50B/10 yrs) for this ill-advised idea.
A similar tax scheme is at play in pending #SCOTUS case #Espinoza vs Montana Dept. of Revenue. In that case, the tax credit was capped at $150. Front-row Justices can’t miss the far-reaching implications their decision in Espinoza could have.
Our constitutional founders and forebears (including Baptists) fought for the disestablishment of religion and ended government funding of religion. This tax credit scheme threatens that principle.
Public schools are excellent training grounds for living in our religiously diverse country. We should be investing in these communities and protecting every student’s religious freedom rights.
BJC filed a brief with the Supreme Court in Espinoza, arguing that state restrictions on taxpayer funding of religion are an appropriate means of expressing religion’s distinctive status under our First Amendment, and an important way to protect religious liberty for all.
A decision in that case is expected by the end of June.