On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of parents in Maine who argued that the state’s ban on taxpayer money going to religious private schools is unconstitutional—a ruling that could energize voucher backers in Texas. The vote was 6-3, with all six conservative justices siding with the parents. The case in Maine is a limited use of tax dollars for private tuition in sparsely populated rural areas without high schools, but the implications for the rest of the country could be significant.
Writing for the majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts argued: “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.” Justice Sonia Sotomayer countered in her dissent: “What a difference five years makes. In 2017, I feared that the Court was leading us…to a place where separation of church and state is a constitutional slogan, not a constitutional commitment.’ Today, the Court leads us to a place where separation of church and state becomes a constitutional violation.”
Texas AFT and our allies have beaten back voucher schemes for more than two decades in the Texas Legislature, so voucher proponents still have a high hurdle to achieve any kind of taxpayer money funding private school tuition. It’s also highly unlikely that the Legislature would have banned public money for religious schools had any voucher legislation passed. (Even though our state constitution clearly prohibits “appropriations for sectarian purposes.”) Still, any proposed voucher program moving forward in Texas would now face little legal opposition based on the separation of church and state in the U.S. Constitution.
Gov. Greg Abbott also could fuel voucher attempts, since he has supported them on the campaign trail. Texas AFT will be there to oppose vouchers in any form, and recent polling shows Texans stand with our position.