This past April, the U.S. Supreme Court announced a landmark decision upholding Arizona’s tuition tax credit program. Opponents claimed it violated the “separation of church and state” because of the benefits that flow to religious schools—through several layers of PRIVATE choice that allow more families to place their children in private schools. Here’s how it works:
- Private individuals organize “School Tuition Organizations” to manage and
distribute scholarship funds to families who want to place their children in
private schools. There’s a wide variety—some of these limit scholarships to particular religious schools (Catholic, Jewish, evangelical) while others do not.
- Taxpayers voluntarily donate to School Tuition Organizations of their choice and receive a state tax credit (up to $500)—thus directing a few of their own “tax
dollars” according to private choice.
- Families apply to an STO of their choice for funds, and choose from among the schools that STO has chosen to support.
The opponents – who sued to have the law declared unconstitutional – lacked legal “standing.” NONE of their tax dollars went to any of the STOs or any of the private schools, religious or otherwise. Thus they suffered no legal “injury.”
Like so many recent Supreme Court decisions, this one was close – 5 to 4. Justice Kennedy is the “swing vote” who made the difference.
Congratulations, Arizona families! You have choices about where to educate your children, without having to pay twice—first through your tax dollars that support public education, and again through tuition for your choice of private schools.
And besides the benefits to families, this important decision may help to ward off other ominous litigation—for example, challenges by non-believers to the minister’s parsonage allowance, a critical tax benefit for churches and pastors.