Court To Hear School Choice Case
Special Report - June 10, 2010
The United States Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal in a case involving the constitutionality of Arizona’s education tax credit program. Plaintiffs in the case argue that Arizona’s tax credit for individuals who voluntarily contribute scholarship funds for use by primarily disadvantaged children to attend the state’s private schools is a violation of the First Amendment because the awardees disproportionately attend religious schools. The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the plaintiffs in Winn v. Arizona Christian School, stating, “Arizona’s tax-credit funded scholarship program lacks religious neutrality and true private choice in making scholarships available to parents.” The Supreme Court announced on May 24 that it intends to hear an appeal of the case during its 2010-2011 term, which begins in October. In 2002, the Supreme Court issued a decision in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris that an Ohio voucher program for needy families was constitutional, regardless of whether parents chose to use the vouchers at religious schools.
Arizona’s Individual School Tuition Organization Tax Credit Program “benefits 28,933 primarily disadvantaged children attending more than 375 schools via scholarships from 54 School Tuition Organizations,” according to the American Federation for Children. The 13 year-old program provides a dollar-for-dollar tax credit on state income taxes for taxpayers who make a voluntary donation to any of more than 50 private nonprofit School Tuition Organizations in the state. The credit is capped at $500 for an individual and $1,000 for a married couple. Qualifying organizations must distribute at least 90 percent of donated funds as scholarships for students to attend private schoolsreligious or secularthat do not discriminate on the basis of race, color, handicap, familiar status, or national origin. The lawsuit stems from the fact that the three largest School Tuition Organizations in Arizona limit the distribution of their respective scholarships to religious schoolsThe Catholic Tuition Organization of the Diocese of Phoenix, the Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization, and the Brophy Communication Foundation.
The Arizona Supreme Court upheld the program in a similar lawsuit in 1999. Eight states filed amicus briefs at the Ninth Circuit in support of the Arizona program.
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