The U.S. Supreme Court has issued its much anticipated decision in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue and held that a state cannot ban parents from using a Scholarship Tax Credit program to attend a religious school.
This decision was in line with several previous Court opinions favoring a parent’s right to choose over government policies that prioritize a “one-size-fits-all” system.
In this instance, opponents of educational freedom relied on an anti-religious Blaine Amendment in Montana to block a mother from using a scholarship for her children to attend a nondenominational Christian school. Blaine Amendments were originally adopted during the 19th century as a means to discriminate against Catholics but have since expanded to impinge on the rights of all parents who seek religious education for their children.
These amendments exist in 37 states, including Kentucky. The immediate impact of the Espinoza decision will be that anti-reform groups in these states will no longer be able to rely on Blaine Amendments as a legal basis for stopping educational choice programs. This is a victory for families and will help promote the common good by ensuring more children have access to classrooms that will lead to successful futures.
On its own, however, this opinion will not provide families with more choices. It only holds that a program cannot be struck down simply because it includes religious schools. The Court did not mandate that states pass educational choice programs.
Herein lies the problem in Kentucky. Despite thousands of citizens contacting their state representatives and senators demanding more options, Scholarship Tax Credit bills have yet to receive a vote in the Kentucky General Assembly.
The blame for this failure rests with a small group of House Republicans who refuse to take a public position on the issue of educational choice. They do not want to be known by their constituents for opposing the freedom to choose—a choice many members of the General Assembly exercise for their own families— and they likewise do not want to take heat from a small but vocal group of opponents of educational freedom. So instead, year after year, they block educational choice legislation from a public vote on the House floor so as to avoid the issue altogether.
The Espinoza decision opens the door to educational freedom for more parents in more states. But that freedom can only become a reality in Kentucky when we say “enough is enough” and demand a floor vote on the issue from our elected officials. Otherwise, the legacy of Blaine will continue to live on in the Bluegrass State.
ANDREW VANDIVER is a member of the EdChoice Kentucky Board.