Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss completely misrepresents upcoming U.S. Supreme Court school choice decision

Last week, the Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss wrote one of her “Answer Sheet” columns that was titled “Supreme Court Likely to Drop School Voucher Bombshell.” Ms. Strauss is referring to the case Carson v. Makin which will be ruled on by the U.S. Supreme Court later this month. Here is a summary of the case: Maine issues educational scholarships to children to attend private schools when there is no local public school in the area in which they live. However, it prevents these vouchers from being used at religious institutions because the State believes it would then be violating the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The Post reporter goes into hysterics to describe what would happen if the court decides in favor of the parents:

“In Carson v. Makin, the conservative majority of the Supreme Court is likely to require Maine officials to use public funding to subsidize religious teaching and proselytizing at schools that legally discriminate against people who don’t support their religious beliefs. A ruling in favor of the families would ‘amount to a license to outsource discrimination,’ according to Kevin Welner, director of the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder’s School of Education.”

She goes on:

“Welner also wrote that a ruling against the state could affect charter schools, which are publicly funded but independently operated. A Carson ruling in favor of the families may mean that states could be seen as ‘engaging in discrimination if they did not allow a church or religious entity to operate a publicly funded charter school as a religious school.’”

I was not exaggerating, was I? There are just three problems with her reasoning. The Supreme Court now has a perfectly consistent record of allowing public funds to go to religious institutions when they are providing a public function.

Year 2002: The Supreme Court ruled in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris that parents could utilize private school vouchers to send their children to religious schools. The logic behind this finding was that the money for educating the students is going to the parents, not to support the school.

Year 2017: The Supreme Court ruled in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc., vs. Comer that funds Missouri was providing to enhance playgrounds at public schools could not be prevented from going to private religious institutions. As I pointed out at the time, the majority opinion stated that, “the exclusion of Trinity Lutheran from a public benefit for which it is otherwise qualified, solely because it is a church, is odious to our Constitution all the same, and cannot stand.” 

Year 2020: The Supreme Court ruled in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue that a Montana tuition school tax credit program could be utilized for children to enroll in parochial schools. In my post about this decision I included Chief Justice John Roberts’ comment that “The application of the no-aid provision discriminated against religious schools and the families whose children attend or hope to attend them in violation of the Free Exercise Clause of the Federal Constitution.”

So now we have Carson. If history is any guide, then the Court will find in support of the Maine parents. By the way, this case, as well as Espinoza and Zelman were all argued by the libertarian Institute for Justice. Here comes another victory for this highly impressive group.

One final point. I have no problem with a charter school having a religious mission. I made the same argument when Center City PSC was created from the conversion of six Catholic schools. I have no doubt that the Supreme Court would support my point of view.

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