Justices rule state programs can’t discriminate against families sending their children to religious private schools
TULSA, Okla. (June 30, 2020) – A U.S. Supreme Court ruling issued Tuesday is a victory for families who wish to attend faith-based schools across the country and use state programs providing tuition assistance to afford them, Opportunity Scholarship Fund (OSF) Executive Director Rob Sellers said.
The case, known as Espinoza vs. Montana Department of Revenue, involved a challenge to Montana’s constitutional “no aid” rule barring any state-assisted funds from supporting schools with religious affiliations.
The program is very similar to Oklahoma’s Equal Opportunity Education Scholarship Act, and Oklahoma has similar constitutional language.
“This is an important day for parents who want to choose the best school for their children, rather than being tied to their ZIP code,” Sellers said. “The Supreme Court ruling said state-based financial assistance programs cannot use religion to discriminate against faith-based schools.”
Donations to OSF’s tax-credit scholarships allows lower-income families to afford private schools serving a wide variety of needs, from children with special needs to those experiencing homelessness or addiction.
OSF submitted an amicus curiae brief in the case, and Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter also wrote in favor of the Espinoza family.
Andrew C. Spiropoulos, author of OSF’s amicus brief and the Robert S. Kerr Sr. professor of constitutional law and Director of the Center for the Study of State Constitutional Law and Government at Oklahoma City University said the decision protects religious liberty.
“In today’s decision, the Supreme Court reaffirms the U.S. Constitution’s free exercise clause, which prohibits government from discriminating against people or institutions based on their religion,” he said. “The Court properly held that states may not exclude schools from a program simply because they have a religious mission or affiliation, making clear that school choice programs like Oklahoma’s Equal Opportunity Education Scholarships are protected from state constitutional challenges.”
About Opportunity Scholarship Fund
The Opportunity Scholarship Fund (OSF) is a 501(c)(3) scholarship-granting organization providing scholarships for lower-income families to afford to attend accredited private K-12 schools in Oklahoma. Students qualify based on standards established by individual member schools’ financial aid criteria and the requirements established by the Oklahoma Equal Opportunity Education Scholarship Act. According to an independent fiscal impact study updated in 2018, the fiscal return to the state is $1.51 of savings for every $1 of tax credit issued based on the state’s per-pupil spending on common education. When accounting for all funding sources, including local and federal sources, the fiscal return is $3.16 for every $1 of tax credit issued. OSF received the 2020 Platinum Seal of Transparency from GuideStar™, demonstrating the organization’s commitment to providing information to the public. Established in late 2014, OSF is the premier scholarship granting organization in Oklahoma.