The U.S. Supreme Court just agreed to hear Espinoza v. Montana, a case that gets at the heart of what public schooling means in the United States. It involves Montana’s Supreme Court, which struck down an education tax credit program on the grounds that it violated the state’s restriction on indirect aid to religious institutions. The petitioners are hoping for a broad decision undermining that restriction entirely — as well as similar provisions in 36 state constitutions.
The discussion about religious schools often focuses on higher education’s Pell grants and Title I dollars, which flow to low-income students wherever they attend school, and K-12’s vouchers, which, unlike tax credits, are public funds. What is often lost in our debates about aid to religious schools, however, is the comparative piece: our country’s restrictions on aid to non-public — and explicitly religious — schools makes us an outlier among our democratic peers.
As I explain in “The Case for Educational Pluralism in the U.S.,” released today by the Manhattan Institute, most democracies embrace a broader view of public education. They fund a wide array of schools, including religious schools. For example, the Netherlands supports 36 different types of schools — including Catholic, Islamic, Montessori and socialist — on equal footing. State funding in England, Belgium, Hong Kong, Slovenia, Indonesia and Switzerland enables students of all income levels to attend philosophically and pedagogically diverse schools.
Ashley Berner is deputy director of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy and associate professor at the School of Education. She is the author of the new Manhattan Institute report, “The Case for Educational Pluralism in the U.S.,” and “Pluralism and American Education: No One Way to School” (Palgrave MacMillan, 2017), and delivered a TEDx talk on the topic in February 2018.
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