School choice is back before the U.S. Supreme Court today with Garriott v. Winn, a lawsuit that involves a challenge to Arizona’s 13-year-old scholarship tax credit program. The program funds more than 27,000 scholarships for students to attend private schools. The state authorizes an income tax credit of up to $500 for individual contributions, and $1,000 for married couples, to privately operated School Tuition Organizations. In turn, these organizations award scholarships to cover private-school tuitions.
The ACLU claims the program violates the First Amendment’s prohibition on the establishment of religion because many taxpayers donate to religiously affiliated organizations and most parents choose to use the scholarships at religious schools. The Institute for Justice has been defending the constitutionality of the tax credit. The Goldwater Institute has filed a “friend of the court” brief that explains how Arizona supports a variety of public and private school options and hasn’t endorsed any religion with this program.
The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld educational aid programs based on private choice, where individuals rather than the government decide which school receives the aid. And private choice is the defining characteristic of Arizona’s tax credit scholarship program. Donors, not government, freely decide which scholarship organization receives their contributions. Parents, not government, choose where to enroll their children.
The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declared the program unconstitutional. But in light of clear Supreme Court precedent upholding similar programs, it is widely expected the higher court will overturn the Ninth Circuit.
A formal decision from the Supreme Court is expected next spring.
Tim Keller is executive director of the Arizona state chapter of the Institute for Justice.
Institute for Justice: Watch a short video describing the case
Center for Arizona Policy: State Saving Millions Because of Scholarship Tax Credit