Washington—Four non-profit organizations dedicated to ensuring all American children attend a school that challenges them and prepares them for the future have filed an amicus brief asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case that would overturn “Blaine Amendments” in state constitutions and remove the chief obstacle to school vouchers in all 50 states.
In 2011, the Douglas County, Colorado elected school board created the nation’s first school board-approved school voucher program. The program allowed all students who had been enrolled in a Douglas County public school the previous school year to apply for a tuition scholarship to attend a private school of their choice. The pilot program was capped at 500 students per year and many more families applied than were given scholarships.
The ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed suit against the program on the basis that it violated the state constitution’s “Blaine Amendment,” which blocks public funds from being given to religious institutions or schools. Even though these scholarships were given directly to parents, not to a religious school, the state Supreme Court ultimately struck the program down as a violation of the Blaine Amendment.
Blaine Amendments were inserted into many state constitutions, sometimes as a pre-condition for admittance into the union, at a time when anti-Catholic bigotry raged throughout the country. The amendments were specifically designed to prevent Catholics from using public resources to educate their children in Catholic schools.
While school vouchers have been upheld as constitutional at the federal level by the Supreme Court (Zelman v. Simmons-Harris in 2002), several state courts in addition to Colorado’s have used Blaine Amendments to strike down state-funded school voucher programs.
Supporters of the Douglas County tuition scholarship program have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case and strike down Blaine Amendments in all states. If successful, this would clear the way for school vouchers in all 50 states. Half of all states currently have school voucher programs in place.
Blaine Amendments can be found in 37 state constitutions: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, Wyoming.
In their amicus brief, the Goldwater Institute, Foundation for Excellence in Education (ExcelinEd), Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options, and American Federation for Children ask the Supreme Court to hear the case and, ultimately, strike down the Blaine Amendments.
“The educational opportunities of millions of American schoolchildren are jeopardized by the Blaine amendments,” says Clint Bolick, the vice president of litigation at the Goldwater Institute and author of the amicus brief. “In states with robust private school choice programs, like Florida, data shows that the racial achievement gap is closing and thousands more disadvantaged students are going to college.”
“The Blaine Amendment is an archaic and ill-designed provision designed to sanction state-sponsored discrimination,” said Patricia Levesque, CEO of ExcelinEd. “Shamefully, the ACLU and others have embraced this bigoted legacy. It is with great pride that our Foundation joins this effort to preserve the individual rights and liberties of all families, regardless of income, to pursue a brighter future for their children.”
“This case could represent an important breakthrough in securing educational opportunities for children who today are trapped in failing schools,” said Julio Fuentes, the president of Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options.
“Every child deserves the opportunity to access a quality education that suits their needs,” said Kevin P. Chavous, executive counsel for the American Federation for Children. “This lawsuit challenges an outdated law rooted in bigotry. AFC is honored to work with this coalition to break down barriers to options and choice in education, and empower countless families with the ability to take control of their child’s education and reach their full potential.”
About the Goldwater Institute
The Goldwater Institute drives results by working daily in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and strengthen the freedom guaranteed to all Americans in the constitutions of the United States and all 50 states. With the blessing of its namesake, the Goldwater Institute opened in 1988. Its early years focused on defending liberty in Barry Goldwater’s home state of Arizona. Today, the Goldwater Institute is a national leader for constitutionally limited government respected by the left and right for its adherence to principle and real world impact. No less a liberal icon than the New York Times calls the Goldwater Institute a “watchdog for conservative ideals” that plays an “outsize role” in American political life.
The Foundation for Excellence in Education is transforming education for the 21st century economy by working with lawmakers, policymakers, educators and parents to advance education reform across America. ExcelinEd is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Learn more at ExcelinEd.org.
Founded in 2001, Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options addresses the crisis in Hispanic education by providing parents with free information and resources to guide them in becoming advocates for their children. Hispanic CREO is the only national public policy Hispanic organization dedicated solely to K-12 education reform to advocate for parents and children. Hispanics are the most undereducated minority group in the United States.
About the American Federation for Children
American Federation for Children is the nation’s leading school choice advocacy organization and works in states across the country to help secure additional, high-quality educational options for families.