WASHINGTON, April 4, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- The American Federation for Children today praised a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that maintains the constitutionality of a long-running Arizona scholarship tax credit program.
The justices rejected a challenge to Arizona's Individual School Tuition Organization Tax Credit Program, in which individuals can claim tax credits for contributing to nonprofit organizations that provide scholarships to disadvantaged children to attend private schools, saying that it is not in violation of Constitutional principles with regard to separation of church and state. Despite having already been upheld by the Arizona Supreme Court, the ruling in the case, Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v. Winn, was struck down by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit before the high court reversed that decision today. The effort to review the Ninth Circuit's decision was led by the Institute for Justice and the Alliance Defense Fund.
This has been a decade-long battle between school choice advocates and anti-school choice organizations intent on denying this option for families by ending the program. Today's ruling not only protects the over 27,000 Arizona children who are currently benefitting from the tax credit program, but it protects similarly-designed school choice programs in other states from challenges as well.
"This is an important victory for school choice not just in Arizona, but around the country," said Betsy DeVos, chairman of the American Federation for Children. "The U.S. Supreme Court has once again affirmed that this choice program and other programs are constitutional, because educational choice ultimately lies with parents. Now we must focus our attention and resources on expanding them, so that families across America have the same choices as those in Arizona."
In today's 5-4 ruling, the majority decided that choice opponents lack standing to challenge the Arizona program on grounds that it uses government funds to promote religious institutions.
A study last October found that the program gives parents a vast allowance of choice as to which schools their children can attend, including public, private, independent, or religious-affiliated schools. The study also found that the program primarily benefits low- and middle-income families, and all participating schools are required to comply with a host of accountability measures and state regulations for private schools, including all nondiscrimination requirements.
Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy said that although parents use most of the scholarship funds to send their children religious-affiliated schools, it does not amount to the funding of those schools by the government.
"Contributions result from the decisions of private taxpayers regarding their own funds," Kennedy said.
The Obama Administration has publicly backed the constitutionality of the Arizona program, though that support is at odds with the Administration's opposition to reauthorizing the highly-successful school voucher program in Washington, D.C. Despite the Administration's opposition to the D.C. program, that measure passed the U.S. House of Representatives last week, while a companion bill awaits consideration in the Senate.
Since it began in 1997, the Arizona Individual School Tuition Organization Tax Credit Program has grown to become the third-largest school choice program in the country—one of three school choice programs in Arizona alone. It is also the third-longest running school choice program in the country and the nation's oldest scholarship tax credit program.
SOURCE American Federation for Children