“Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education,” wrote Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., when he was a student at Morehouse College in 1947. America’s religious schools daily pursue and usually achieve this goal, producing young adults who use their intelligence to love and serve their neighbors. Unfortunately, economically disadvantaged families often cannot afford private education. They have no meaningful choice other than public schools, which all too often do not effectively cultivate intelligence and instill character.
Recognizing the value of private education, the frequent shortcomings of public education, economic reality, and the beneficial effects of competition, a number of state legislatures have promoted educational freedom to advance what Dr. King called “the goal of true education.” Typically, the legislature will give parents the economic ability to choose a private school. Given the prevalence of religious schools among private educational institutions, legislatures naturally permit parents to direct the funding to either secular or religious private schools that satisfy certain basic standards.
The school choice movement has encountered relentless resistance. The entrenched and well-heeled public school establishment clings tenaciously to its virtual monopoly on K-12 schooling. The educational bureaucracy is joined by “strict separationists,” who almost always hold visceral disdain for the theologically orthodox perspective of many religious schools. When proponents of the status quo lose in the legislatures, they inevitably launch legal attacks on innovative school funding programs that give more power to parents.
Opponents of school choice suffered a major setback in 2002, when the U.S. Supreme Court held that school choice programs need not exclude religious schools in order to satisfy the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. After the Supreme Court’s ruling, they changed their tactics and started using state laws written in the 19th century, during an era of anti-Catholic bigotry, that prohibit funding for Catholic schools.
Happily, two state courts recently rejected challenges to school choice. In Taxpayers for Public Education v. Douglas County School District, the Colorado Court of Appeals upheld educational freedom, reasoning that the program was “neutral toward religion, and funds make their way to private schools with religious affiliation by means of personal choices of students’ parents.” Alliance Defending Freedom, working with allied attorney Stuart Lark, filed a brief supporting educational freedom in the case. The challengers will likely ask the Colorado Supreme Court to review the decision.
On March 26, the Indiana Supreme Court held that the state’s Choice Scholarship Program did not violate the state constitution. Most significantly, the court rejected the challengers’ contention that the program violated the Indiana Constitution, which provides that “[n]o money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution.” The court reasoned that the program was for the benefit of students and their families, not the schools. In addition, it held that K-12 religious schools are not “religious or theological institution[s]” as that phrase was used by the framers of Indiana’s constitution. Alliance Defending Freedom filed a friend of the court brief in this case as well.
Despite these victories, challengers to the status quo still face obstacles. In New Hampshire, for instance, strict separationists and the public school establishment have attacked a business tax credit designed to facilitate educational choice. As Alliance Defending Freedom pursues the true goal of education, we need your help. Join us by seeking freedom in learning, choice in education, and a classroom that builds “intelligence plus character.” And if you see policies in your community that unfairly limit the expansion of school choice, contact us and perhaps we can help open the doors for true choice in education.