What does Carson v. Makin mean for ed leaders? | #Education

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Tuesday’s Supreme Court’s 6-3 decision that Maine violated the First Amendment by restricting religious private schools from using public tuition assistance programs is being met with a mix of reactions and concerns.

The decision, split among ideological lines, has garnered praise from some school choice proponents who see this as fuel for their movement, a win for parental rights in education and a decision that will prevent discrimination against religious schools. At the same time, it’s received pushback from public school supporters. 

The decision certainly creates further momentum in the direction that any statute that limits relief to non-sectarian schools is in trouble and … reaffirms what was already clear from Espinoza,” said Paul Clement, former U.S. solicitor general under President George W. Bush and current counsel to the Center for Education Reform, in a statement. 

The decision also drew heavy criticism from public school advocates who see it as a blow to the separation of church and state, and a way to fund religious education with taxpayer money.

Becky Pringle, president of the National Education Association, called the decision a “radical ruling” that undermines public schools. “Forcing American taxpayers to fund private religious education … erodes the foundation of our democracy and harms students,” Pringle said in a statement.

Decision expands choice, funding of religious education

In their Carson v. Makin ruling, the Supreme Court majority decided families should have the option to send their students to private religious schools using a public tuition subsidy program. 

“It certainly energizes the choice movement,” said Joshua Dunn, professor of political science at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. “As school choice broadly becomes more popular, and states respond to that, it’s going to be more difficult for them to limit the range of choice options, at least legally.”

Overall, the decision will also make it easier for religious private schools to access public subsidies. 

“Today’s decision makes clear, once and for all, that the government may not bar parents from selecting religious schools within educational choice programs, whether because of their religious affiliation or the religious instruction they provide,” said Michael Bindas, senior attorney at the Institute for Justice who argued the case in front of the Court, in a statement.

Vermont’s program, which is similar to Maine’s, will see an immediate impact, said Noelle Ellerson Ng, associate executive director for advocacy and governance at AASA, the School Superintendents Association. “But it sets the stage for a legislative playbook in other states, for advocates to move legislation that would create programs that would then be obligated to fund public and private schools, including those doing religious instruction.” 

The logic from the case could also be applied to states with religious charter schools, which means any state with a charter school-authorizing law — which includes at least 45 states and the District of Columbia — could be required to fund religious charters, said Will Stancil, a research fellow at the Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity. Stancil focuses on civil rights law and policy in housing and education. 

“I also don’t see why most sectarian schools would want to continue operating as private schools if they could simply reorganize as charters, drop tuition requirements and replace tuition with SCOTUS-mandated public funding,” he said.

Increased public funding for private schools could siphon away money from public schools, said Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Virginia, in a statement. 

“Public dollars should be used to fund public schools,” Scott, chairman for the House committee on Educatoin and Labor, said. “This decision will negatively impact the roughly ninety percent of our nation’s students who attend public schools and will see resources diverted away from their education.”

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