Rhode Island

Constitutional Provisions

Compelled Support Clause

“[N]o person shall be compelled to frequent or to support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatever, except in fulfillment of such person’s voluntary contract .…” Rhode Island Const. Art. I, § 3.

Vouchers: Yes

Tax Credits: Yes

Existing Private School Choice Programs

Corporate Tax Credit Scholarships

Rhode Island General Laws Sections 44-62-1 to -7

Relevant Case Law

Rhode Island Federation of Teachers v. Norberg, 630 F.2d 855 (1st Cir. 1980)

The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held that a Rhode Island statute allowing a tax deduction for educational expenses violated the Establishment Clause. The deduction was overwhelmingly claimed by parents of students in parochial schools, which meant it had more than an incidental effect on the advancement of religion, according to the court. In addition, ensuring that only secular materials were deducted would result in excessive entanglement.

The U.S. Supreme Court later upheld a similar program in Minnesota in Mueller v. Allen.

Exeter-West Greenwich Regional School District v. Pontarelli, 460 A.2d 934 (R.I. 1983)

The Rhode Island Supreme Court held that a community was not required to pay for the education of resident students who chose to attend religiously affiliated high schools because the community had already provided for free education at certain public high schools outside the community.

Bowerman v. O’Connor, 247 A.2d 82 (R.I. 1968)

The Rhode Island Supreme Court upheld a textbook loan program challenged under the state’s Compelled Support Clause. The Court reasoned that Rhode Island’s Compelled Support Clause is no more restrictive than the federal Establishment Clause and the U.S. Supreme Court had upheld a similar program in New York in Board of Education v. Allen.

General Finance Corp. v. Archetto, 176 A.2d 73 (R.I. 1961)

Examining federal Establishment Clause jurisprudence, the Rhode Island Supreme Court upheld a statute granting tax exemption for religious buildings against a First Amendment challenge.

Analysis and Recommendations

Both tax credit and voucher programs are school choice options for Rhode Island. Given that Rhode Island courts adhere to federal Establishment Clause precedent when interpreting the state’s Compelled Support Clause, it is likely that the Zelman decision, with its distinction between aiding students and aiding the schools they choose to attend, will be persuasive.

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

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