School Choice Win at Supreme Court

Liberty Alerts, American Center for Law and Justice

It’s a significant victory for school choice and for fairness in courts.  The Supreme Court, by a vote of 5-to-4, threw out a constitutional challenge brought by the ACLU to the Arizona tuition tax credit program.

The program allows Arizona taxpayers to take a state income tax credit for donations to private Student Tuition Organizations (STOs) which in turn provide scholarships to students attending private schools. In Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization (ACSTO) v. Winn, the high court ruled that because the Arizona program involved only tax credits, not state appropriations, the taxpayer challengers did not have legal “standing” to bring the suit in federal court.

Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy concluded: “Contributions result from the decisions of private taxpayers regarding their own funds.  Objecting taxpayers know that their fellow citizens, not the state, decide to contribute and in fact make the contribution.’’

In our amicus brief filed in this case, we urged the high court to reject this challenge on the “standing” issue.  And we’re extremely pleased that’s exactly what the high court did.

This ruling represents a big victory for school choice because the innovative Arizona program facilitates crucial private financing of private school options for parents to use for their children.

It also represents a victory for fairness in court because the ruling refused to give special privileges to church-state separationists to challenge tax credits. After all, no other persons have taxpayer standing to challenge other government taxing and spending programs they don’t like. Why should separationists get a special exception to the rules that apply to everyone else?

Under the Arizona tuition tax credit statute, individuals who contribute up to $500 to STOs get to take a credit for the amount of the contribution on their state tax return. The STOs in turn award scholarships to students to defray the cost of attending private schools. To qualify for the program, STOs must be tax exempt entities that distribute at least 90 percent of their revenue in scholarships. STOs must offer scholarships to at least two different private schools.

By overturning the flawed decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the high court sent a powerful signal to other states where these type of tax credits already are in use around the country.

Six states – including Pennsylvania and Florida, already have similar laws like Arizona’s in place.  With this decision, more states are likely to follow.

Used with the permission of the American Center for Law and Justice.