Supreme Court Decision Authorizes Tuition Subsidies at Religious Schools | Loi Pessin Katz, PA

[co-author: Joseph McCarter]

In a recent decision, the Supreme Court reaffirmed its position that states cannot withhold funds intended to subsidize private education tuition to families who wish to use those funds to send their children to religious private schools. .

The case was Carson as OC’s next friend vs. Makin, 142 S.Ct. 1987 (2022), and it was a Maine law that subsidized private school tuition for families who lived in rural school districts that did not provide free secondary education. Maine, however, would not allow families to receive these grants if they intended to send their children to a religious private school.

The Supreme Court ruled that denying families grants that were generally available for private education just because a school is religious amounts to religious discrimination. The Court further held that when families independently choose to use private education grants at a religious school, the grant program does not violate the Establishment Clause, which prohibits the government from promoting religion. This is because the government has no role in a family’s decision to use the grant at a religious school.

The Court noted that its position was consistent with its recent positions in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer, 137 S.Ct. 2012 (2017) and Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, 140 S.Ct. 2246 (2020). In Lutheran Trinity, the court struck down a Missouri policy that barred religious organizations from receiving grant funds that were generally available to organizations that covered their playgrounds using rubber from recycled tires. In Espinozathe Court struck down a provision of the Montana constitution that prohibited religious schools from receiving scholarship funds that were generally available to other schools.

The Court held that its decision in this case would not require state governments to subsidize religious education. “A state does not need to subsidize private education,” the Court said, “but once a state decides to do so, it cannot disqualify certain private schools just because they are religious” .

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