United States Supreme Court

For just the second time in its history, the Supreme Court of the United States will hear a case on school choice. The high court decided that it will hear an appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that Arizona’s scholarship tax credit program is unconstitutional. Nearly 30,000 children benefit from Arizona’s tax credit program, which allows individuals to receive income tax credits for contributing to a scholarship-granting organization. A press release from the American Federation for Children stated:

The Supreme Court’s decision to hear the case provides school choice supporters with an opportunity to once again demonstrate the constitutionality of school choice programs… Amicus briefs filed by eight states and a multitude of civic organizations have called for the Ninth Circuit’s decision to be overturned.

“The ACLU successfully shopped around for a court that would side with its anti-school-choice position regarding Arizona’s scholarship tax credit program, but now the U.S. Supreme Court will have the opportunity to set the record straight,” said Betsy DeVos, chairman of the American Federation for Children. “We are hopeful that the Supreme Court of the United States will side with the 28,000+ children served by this program and, most importantly, the freedoms granted to all of us under the Constitution of the United States of America.”

The Institute for Justice, which has worked to defend the Arizona school choice program, worked to move the case to the Supreme Court:

In Winn v. Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declared unconstitutional a 13-year-old Arizona tuition tax credit program. Arizona’s tax credit is available to individuals who donate to nonprofit organizations known as School Tuition Organizations that issue scholarships to enable low- and middle-income parents to send their children to private schools, including religious schools.

The Institute for Justice recently filed its reply brief in the case, which emphasized that the 9th Circuit decision warrants Supreme Court review because the appeals court ignored controlling Supreme Court precedent and because its decision conflicts with an Arizona Supreme Court’s 1999 decision upholding the program from an identical legal challenge.

Tim Keller, executive director of the Institute for Justice Arizona Chapter, noted:

Private choice, not government action, controls Arizona’s tax credit program,” Keller said. “The entire program is religiously neutral. Taxpayers and parents have no financial incentive to donate to either a religiously affiliated scholarship organization over a nonreligious scholarship organization or to select a religious over a nonreligious school.

As the Obama administration works to phase-out a successful school choice program in the nation’s capital and to limit existing school choice provisions in federal law, a verdict from the Supreme Court to uphold the constitutionality of tax credit programs would be a welcome step toward ensuring equal opportunity for a quality education.