Constitutional Provisions

Compelled Support Clause

“[N]o man can of right be compelled to attend, erect or support any place of worship, or to maintain any ministry against his consent .…” Pennsylvania Const. Art. 1, § 3.

Blaine Amendment

“No money raised for the support of the public schools of the Commonwealth shall be appropriated to or used for the support of any sectarian school.” Pennsylvania Const. Art. 3, § 15.

Other Relevant Provisions

“No appropriation shall be made for charitable, educational or benevolent purposes to any person or community nor to any denominational and sectarian institution, corporation or association: Provided, That appropriations may be made for … loans for higher educational purposes to residents of the Commonwealth enrolled in institutions of higher learning except that no scholarship, grants or loans for higher educational purposes shall be given to persons enrolled in a theological seminary or school of theology.” Pennsylvania Const. Art. 3, § 29.

“No appropriation shall be made to any charitable or educational institution not under the absolute control of the Commonwealth, other than normal schools established by law for the professional training of teachers for the public schools of Pennsylvania, except by a vote of two-thirds of all the members elected to each House.” Pennsylvania Const. Art. III, § 30.

Vouchers: Yes

Tax Credits: Yes

Existing Private School Choice Programs

Education Improvement Tax Credits

24 Pennsylvania Code Sections 20-2001-B to -2008-B

Pre-K Tax Credits

24 Pennsylvania Code Section 24-2003-B

Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit Program

72 Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes Sections 8701-G.1 to 8712-G.1

Relevant Case Law

Christen G. v. Lower Merion School District, 919 F. Supp. 793 (E.D. Pa. 1996)

A federal district court held that in accordance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act a state could reimburse parents for private school tuition without violating either the U.S. or Pennsylvania Constitutions because the payments do not advance religion.

Haller v. Department of Revenue, 728 A.2d 351 (Pa. 1999)

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that a tax exemption for the sale and use of “religious publications” sold by “religious groups” violates the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause because it shows a preference for religious communications without some overarching secular purpose. The exemption’s narrow focus makes it unconstitutional.

Springfield School District v. Department of Education, 397 A.2d 1154 (Pa. 1979)

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that free school bus transportation provided to parochial school children does not violate the U.S. or state Constitutions because any benefit to a religious institution is indirect and incidental.

Wiest v. Mt. Lebanon School District, 320 A.2d 362, 366-67 (Pa. 1974)

In holding that a religious invocation at the start of a public school graduation ceremony does not violate the First Amendment, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court also concluded that such an invocation would not offend Pennsylvania’s Compelled Support Clause because it is coextensive with the First Amendment.

Rhoades v. School District, 226 A.2d 53 (Pa. 1967)

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of a statute authorizing transportation of private school students at public expense as a health and safety measure.

Schade v. Allegheny County Institution District, 126 A.2d 911 (Pa. 1956)

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that payments of public funds to religious orphanages did not violate Pennsylvania’s Blaine Amendment because they were not “appropriations,” but rather payments for services rendered. Nothing in the Pennsylvania Constitution prevents the state from contracting with religious institutions and then paying its debts upon performance.

Collins v. Martin, 139 A. 122 (Pa. 1927)

In striking down a welfare appropriation in which public money would flow to private or religious hospitals, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that the Pennsylvania Constitution plainly stated that the people’s money should not be given for charity, benevolence or education to persons or communities, or for any purpose to sectarian and denominational institutions, corporations or associations.

Collins v. Kephart, 117 A. 440 (Pa. 1921)

Under an earlier version of Pennsylvania’s Blaine Amendment, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that religious hospitals were barred from receiving state funds despite their status as “worthy charities.”

Giacomucci v. Southeast Delco School District, 742 A.2d 1165 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 1999)

The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court held that a local school board lacked the statutory authority to institute a voucher program.

Analysis and Recommendations

Both tax credit and voucher programs are school choice options for Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Constitution contains a Compelled Support Clause and a Blaine Amendment. The latter restricts the use of funds “raised for the public schools” but can be avoided entirely by funding vouchers from other government revenue. State case law demonstrates a strong adherence to federal Establishment Clause precedent and includes a distinction between “appropriations” and “payments for services rendered,” which should ensure voucher legislation’s compliance with the Blaine Amendment.

Model Legislation: Education Savings Account, Parental Choice Scholarship Program (Universal Eligibility), Parental Choice Scholarship Program (Means-Tested Eligibility), Special Needs Scholarship Program, Foster Child Scholarship Program, Autism Scholarship, Great Schools Tax Credit Program, Family Education Tax Credit Program

Sign up to receive IJ's biweekly digital magazine, Liberty & Law along with breaking updates about our fight to protect the rights of all Americans.