LONG: Supreme Court affirms school choice, Tar Heel state celebrates

Parents showed their support at a rally organized by the N.C. Association for Public Charter Schools. January 23, 2018 Raleigh. (Lauren Rose, The North State Journal)

Tuesday, June 30, was a great day for school choice across America, reverberating right here in North Carolina. In a 5-4 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a Montana tax-credit scholarship program that helps students and their families gain equal access to the private school of their choice.

The case, Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, is the most important and far-reaching school choice decision by the Supreme Court in decades.

Here is a brief history of the case. In 2015, the Montana legislature established the tax-credit scholarship, allowing taxpayers to receive a dollar-for-dollar tax credit up to $150 for donations to a Student Scholarship Organization. These SSOs then in turn funded scholarships for families to attend private schools.

Based on an existing law on the books, the Montana state government decided that scholarships could not be used for students to attend faith-based schools. That led to a lawsuit that culminated in the Montana Supreme Court striking down the entire program. This week’s ruling recognizes that the Montana scholarship program does not violate the U.S. Constitution and has once again affirmed the constitutionality of school choice programs.

The people involved with the case show why the cause of school choice is so important. The plaintiff, Kendra Espinoza, is a single mother in Montana working three jobs. She had used the scholarship to send her daughters to a faith-based private school of her own choice, specifically to escape the negative social atmosphere at their local public school.

This is a huge victory for educational access across America, including right here in North Carolina. PEFNC was proud to sign-on to an Amicus Brief submitted by the Center for Education Reform. The brief was cited twice by a Supreme Court justice, clearly making a strong impact.

Although our state does not have a tax-credit program comparable to Montana’s, our Opportunity Scholarship Program is designed to meet much the same goals. We successfully defended Opportunity Scholarships in 2015 before the N.C. Supreme Court — the program currently provides economic access to a private school of their choice for over 12,000 N.C. students from low-income, working-class families.

The program remains strong despite efforts from politicians like Gov. Roy Cooper, who has called the Opportunity Scholarship Program “an expense we should stop in our state.” He’s gone as far as defunding Opportunity Scholarships through his budget proposals.

But this victory does not mean we can rest on our laurels. Even this legislative session, lawmakers in the General Assembly have mounted efforts to dismantle Opportunity Scholarships, in attempts to make good on Gov. Cooper’s promise to end the program. History and legal precedent are on our side, and we are committed to continuing the fight to protect these programs and the students and families impacted.

This is an enormous loss for education’s elite decision-making class, teachers’ unions and supporters of the educational status quo. It is an enormous victory for students and families, particularly those of less means who cannot afford to escape their locally zoned public school to attend a private school that is a better fit.

It is this simple: The constitution of the United States sides with school choice. And so do we.