San Francisco—The Pacific Research Institute’s Vicki Murray applauds the ruling issued Monday by the U.S. Supreme Court reversing the Ninth Circuit’s decision in Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v. Winn, a legal challenge aimed at ending Arizona’s tax credit scholarship program.
A recent study by Vicki Murray, Education Studies Associate Director and Senior Policy Fellow, prepared as part of the defense of the program shows that Arizona’s scholarship program helps tens of thousands of students from low- and middle-income families attend private schools that would otherwise be unavailable to them. Dr. Murray’s paper is available from Harvard University’s Program on Education Policy and Governance Here.
Tax credit scholarship programs allow individuals and businesses to take credits against their state income taxes for donations to nonprofit scholarship granting organizations. This is the fifth time in recent years that the Supreme Court has thwarted efforts by school choice opponents to use the courts to stop programs that empower parents to choose a private education if they believe that is the best option for their children.
In 1997, Arizona adopted the country’s first statewide scholarship tax credit program. Under that program, individuals who donate to nonprofit organizations (known as School Tuition Organizations) may take a dollar-for-dollar tax credit against their state income taxes, up to a maximum of $500 per taxpayer. The ACLU of Arizona challenged Arizona’s tax credit program on behalf of several state taxpayers alleging that by allowing other taxpayers to donate to religiously-affiliated nonprofit organizations, the state was effectively advancing religion.
A federal district court originally dismissed the ACLU’s lawsuit, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reinstated the suit because most taxpayers to date have donated to religiously affiliated charities. Yesterday’s historic decision declared that the plaintiffs in the case lack standing to bring the challenge in the first place because the program is funded by private contributions, not government funds.
“When Arizona taxpayers choose to contribute to [School Tuition Organizations], they spend their own money, not money the State has collected from respondents or from other taxpayers,” wrote Justice Anthony M. Kennedy for the 5-4 majority. “[The ACLU’s] contrary position assumes that income should be treated as if it were government property even if it has not come into the tax collector’s hands. That premise finds no basis in standing jurisprudence,” continued Kennedy.
“Yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling is a win-win for hundreds of thousands of students, parents, and taxpayers nationwide,“ says Dr. Murray. ”The decision should reassure state lawmakers interested in expanding education options for California children and their families because the empirical evidence is now crystal clear: tax-credit scholarship programs are constitutional. They also improve education outcomes at a fraction of the cost—a critical consideration given the state’s budget crisis.”