WASHINGTON, D.C. – Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich co-led an 18-state brief urging the justices to overturn a 2018 Montana Supreme Court decision that required the state to exclude religious school options for parents participating in a state tax credit scholarship program. In their brief, the coalition of attorneys general argued that if the ruling was not reversed, it would open the doors for other state courts to interpret laws regarding similar scholarship programs in the same discriminatory way. Today, General Brnovich applauded the U.S. Supreme Court's pro-school choice ruling in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue.
“Education is the key to upward mobility in our society,” said Attorney General Mark Brnovich. “Families rely on these scholarship programs to provide a quality education for their children, and they should not be discriminated against because their selected school is religious.”
In the 5-4 ruling issued today, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the free exercise of religion bars the government from treating religious groups differently from secular ones.
Montana’s program, enacted by its legislature in 2015, provided a $150 dollar-to-dollar tax credit to qualified taxpayers who donated to a private scholarship organization. The organization could then use those donations to provide tuition scholarships to any child to attend a qualified private school, regardless of religious affiliation. More than 30 states, including Arizona, have state tax credit scholarship programs that provide financial assistance to parents to provide better educational opportunities for their children.
In today's 5-4 ruling, Justice Roberts wrote in the opinion:
"The application of the no-aid provision discriminated against religious schools and the families whose children attend or hope to attend them in violation of the Free Exercise Clause of the Federal Constitution."
Arizona’s Income Tax Credit Scholarship Program
Arizona is a national leader in school choice, with programs that empower parents to choose between traditional district schools, open enrollment, charter schools, homeschooling, online education, and private school. The Arizona Legislature created its scholarship program in 1997, which allows families to receive tax credits for their donations to charities that in return provide private scholarships for children.
The Arizona Supreme Court previously upheld the state's tax-credit scholarship program, reasoning that tax credits are not “public money” as that term is used in Arizona’s no-aid provision because “no money ever enters the state’s control as a result of this tax credit,” and “[n]othing is deposited in the state treasury or other accounts under the management or possession of governmental agencies or public officials.”
The Arizona Attorney General's Office, which helped write the brief in September of 2019, along with the states of Oklahoma and Georgia, was joined by attorneys general from the states of Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and West Virginia. Additionally, the Governors of Kentucky and Mississippi joined the brief supporting the Montana program.