2017 Is the Year of School Choice

February 3, 2017

School choice continues to build momentum. In 2016, IJ successfully defended five school choice programs and helped another state write legislation for new programs. We expect 2017 to be another great year—maybe the best so far.

The legal victories were huge. In Florida, we successfully defended two popular programs that serve more than 87,000 children, but school choice opponents have appealed that decision. We are confident we will win again. In Montana, we persuaded a trial court to issue a temporary injunction to stop a state agency from excluding students attending religious schools from the state’s new scholarship program. Our position—and the proper constitutional one—is that parents should be able to decide what school is the best fit for their children. As a result of this victory, Montana children attending religious schools will receive scholarships this month for the first time.

In Nevada, we successfully defended the constitutionality of what has the potential to be the largest program so far—a universal education savings account program. Unfortunately, although the court agreed with us on all the substantive arguments, it held that the state had not properly funded the program, a problem we hope the Legislature will soon rectify.

The stakes for school choice litigation are even higher in 2017. Soon the Montana trial court will hold a hearing on whether to make its injunction permanent, and we expect that case to arrive at the Montana Supreme Court shortly thereafter. And as you read left to this article, the Georgia Supreme Court held a hearing on whether to affirm our 2016 victory protecting Georgia’s longstanding tax-credit scholarship program. The decisions in these cases will affect thousands of families.

Perhaps the most significant case for school choice, however, is the U.S. Supreme Court case, Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Pauley, in which we authored an amicus brief last year. Trinity Lutheran concerns whether the government can use state constitutional provisions known as “Blaine Amendments” to discriminate against religious institutions in allocating public funds. Blaine Amendments restrict public funds from “aiding” religious institutions, and they have been used for years to limit or block school choice programs even though these programs aid families, not schools. An opinion limiting or striking down Blaine Amendments would have significant benefits for school choice nationwide. The Court will likely hear the case this spring.

In addition to our litigation work, we have also been very busy in the state legislatures. In South Dakota, we helped pass a tax-credit scholarship program last March, which kicked off with a $150,000 donation from a local business. The same month, Maryland passed a voucher program. There are now 58 school choice programs in 28 states and D.C. We plan to add to that list. In 2016, we worked on bills in Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia and Wyoming. We are eager to see some of those bills hit the floor this term.

2017 will undoubtedly bring new hope and opportunities for countless families. It only gets better from here.

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