The U.S. Supreme Court is set to consider a case that could have a major impact on school choice programs across the country. The case, Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer, deals with whether a church-run preschool can be excluded from a Missouri program that provides funding for rubberized surface material for children’s playgrounds. The state claims that including the preschool in the program would violate a Missouri constitutional provision commonly known as a “Blaine Amendment.” Blaine Amendments exist in 37 state constitutions. Generally speaking, these types of provisions prohibit state funds from flowing to religious schools.
Kentucky is one of the states that features a Blaine Amendment in its state constitution. Blaine Amendments were adopted as an anti-Catholic/anti-immigrant measure in the late 19th century. Some lower level courts have recognized the motives behind the Blaine Amendments in their rulings and have declined to use them to prohibit parental choice in education. Likewise, it is possible that the U.S. Supreme Court will find in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer that Blaine Amendments cannot be used to discriminate against religious institutions with regard to public programs.
It is unlikely that this case will impact the legality of Scholarship Tax Credit proposals currently pending in Kentucky. Scholarship Tax Credits have a perfect record in the courts. This is because Scholarship Tax Credit programs rely solely on private funding. Challenges to Scholarship Tax Credit programs under state constitutions have been dismissed and it is expected that the Kentucky Supreme Court would reach a similar conclusion. Thus, regardless of how the Supreme Court rules in Trinity Lutheran, a Scholarship Tax Credit program in Kentucky is almost certainly constitutional.
Nevertheless, a favorable ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court would provide further support for the argument that parents should have the right to choose the most appropriate classroom for their children, regardless of whether it is a religious or secular school.
The Supreme Court will hear arguments in the Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer on April 19th, 2017. A decision will likely be issued by late June.