Publicly Subsidized Religious Instruction: The New Standard

On June 30, 2020, the Supreme Court released its decision in ESPINOZA ET AL. v. MONTANA DEPARTMENT OF REVENUE ET AL. The case has important implications for school choice, educational tax credits, and the separation of church and state.

US Supreme Court upholds religious liberty, forbids religious ...

A Brief Synopsis of the Case

In 2015, the Montana Legislature extended up to $150 in tax credits to any tax payer who donated to a student scholarship organization (aka Big Sky Scholarships). Families with financial hardships or children with handicaps could apply for a Big Sky Scholarship and designate a private school of choice to which Big Sky would directly send (publicly subsidized) funding. Thirteen private schools received funding and twelve of those were religious schools. Because the Montana constitution bars any “direct or indirect” aid to schools controlled in whole or in part by any church, sect, or denomination” the State Supreme Court invalidated the program.

In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court of the United States overturned the State Supreme Court decision, ruling that the Montana Supreme Court discriminated against the parents and schools based on religion, in violation of the Free Exercise Clause of the 1st Amendment. According to Chief Justice Roberts, who wrote the majority decision, “a state need not subsidize private education. But once a state decides to do so, it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious.”

Sweeping Implications

This case has sweeping implications; 29 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico provide educational tax credits or vouchers. Going forward, these states and any other state that provides an educational tax credit is compelled to subsidize religious schools— even if the state constitution expressly forbids it.

With this ruling, the conservatives on the Supreme Court have clearly signaled the future for the public funding of religious schools and, we should expect more rulings that further erode the separation of church and state.

Read the full decision here: https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/19pdf/18-1195_g314.pdf

Supreme Relief … for Now

It was a long wait for the Supreme Court ruling on Dreamers. And the celebration has been sweet for Dreamers, those of us who love Dreamers, count Dreamers among our family and friends, and those of us who have realized that Dreamers have always been home in America, have always been the essence of who we are as a nation.  But in the midst of our celebration, the actual ruling is worth review, and that review is not as reassuring. 

The Court found that the Trump administration cannot simply end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program which allows about 800,000 Dreamers to avoid deportation. The decision found that the government violated the Administrative Procedures Act by failing to give adequate justification for ending the program. In other words, the implication is that, with more adequate justification, DACA could end. This should temper somewhat our celebration and send a cold chill down the spine of any American who believes in justice for Dreamers. And, of course, Donald Trump is already touting that his administration will take just that action.

There is another thing that the decision should do to the spine of caring Americans.  It should strengthen our spines and our resolves to end the presidency of Donald Trump and opt for presidential leadership that bends toward justice, that believes in science, that puts diplomacy ahead of bluster, and that cares for all children of the world.  That is when Dreamers and those of us who care about Dreamers can rest a bit easier.

For more–

Listen to NPR’s interview with Dreamer Antonio Alarcon, one of the plaintiffs in the DACA case:

https://www.npr.org/2020/06/18/880513774/celebrate-today-fight-tomorrow-daca-case-plaintiff-on-supreme-courts-decision

Read the full text of the Supreme Court decision on DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY ET AL. v. REGENTS OF THE UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA ET AL here: https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/19pdf/18-587_5ifl.pdf

Dissertating in America 2020

It is pretty much given that an overwhelming number of us have been touched by COVID-19 and by the recent demands for action on social justice in America.  With masks in place, many have marched in cities and neighborhoods for justice, and worried about our children who are marching. At home, many dining room tables are now home offices, with parents vying for internet time with their kids. In place of face-to-face interactions, learning has moved online, graduation ceremonies postponed or virtual. Millions of workers have lost jobs and businesses have closed.  Countless elders are isolated and alone in senior care homes. We all feel the impacts.

I recently spent a weekend with about 20 people who are all feeling their own set of impacts.  Each of them has passed all the prerequisites for a Doctorate in Educational Leadership and are all starting dissertations. And, they too are feeling the impact. Some planned dissertations based on classroom observations, but now they have no classrooms to observe.  Some had detailed plans for interviews with educational leaders, but now interviews must be rethought.  Others had planned up-close observations of educators, but there is no up-close now.  Some have had to rethink basic assumptions about the role of education in a just society. 

At the same time, many of these students are having to quickly adapt in other parts of their lives, perhaps learning to teach or otherwise work on line. Perhaps they spend most of their days in on-line meetings, with preschoolers in the same room, demanding, needing, and vying for attention.  Some have parents who they worry about and feel the need to care for while unable to actually visit with them. Some face lay-offs or pay-cuts, on top of feeling the sting of racial injustice in America. Their stories are compelling and left me feeling a bit of second-hand trauma. 

By its very nature, a dissertation is demanding. It requires digging deep, original thinking, and innovation.  After all, a dissertation asks the writer to establish both new research and new findings.  It is not regurgitation, but instead original research that adds to our collective knowledge. The challenge is always there, but today’s students need to stretch a bit farther and lift a bit more. In my experience, as in many other aspects of life, being brainy is a great advantage in writing a dissertation; but the real advantage is in being resilient.  Facing problems head on, and not being dissuaded.  Acknowledging adversity and finding a way through it. After spending most of the weekend on line with these students, I know they are up to the task.