On December 16th, three concerned moms in the state of Montana joined with IJ to sue the State Department of Revenue over a rule that denies school choice to most eligible families in the state’s new scholarship program. This lawsuit is another in a series of legal cases in which IJ has stood on the side of parents and students.
As a long-standing advocate for school choice, IJ immediately took issue when the Department decided to defy state legislators and interpret the program to exclude families who preferred religious schools. This seemingly arbitrary decision not only goes against the intent of the state government, but also disregards the Montana and U.S. Constitutions, which guarantee free exercise of religion. As IJ attorney Erica Smith told the Associated Press: “It should be up to parents, not government bureaucrats, to decide what’s best for a child.”
Under the state’s new school choice program, passed by the state legislature earlier this year, private donors can give to nonprofit scholarship organizations in exchange for a modest $150 tax credit. The scholarships are then awarded to families who likely wouldn’t otherwise have the financial means to send their kids to private school.
While the legislature intended to extend this program to all Montanans, the Department’s new rule excludes those who would choose to attend religious private schools. Considering the majority of private schools in the state are religious, this rule could effectively destroy the program and deny choice to many low- and moderate-income families.