Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Victory for Georgia School Kids
By Randy Hicks
Earlier this month thousands of Georgia school kids barely averted what could have been a major blow to their educational futures. Thankfully, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled correctly in a case that protects their education and their parent’s ability to choose how and where they get it.
The case before the nation’s highest court was a challenge to a student scholarship program in Arizona, which is very similar to one that is benefitting thousands of kids in Georgia. The program provides an income tax credit for donations to nonprofit tuition scholarship organizations. These nonprofits then give scholarships to kids so they can afford to transfer from a public to a private school.
Here in Georgia, it’s called the Tuition Tax Credit Scholarship. It was approved by the General Assembly in 2008 and is serving nearly 8,000 students in hundreds of schools across the state.
In Georgia, Arizona and several others states, this scholarship program is giving families the ability to choose where their kids get educated. Georgia Family Council, where I work, strongly advocated for the law at the General Assembly as a way to give middle and lower income families access to an education that is better suited to their children’s needs. The program has proven to be of particular benefit to families whose children are stuck in poor performing schools.
But not everyone sees it that way. Enter the ACLU.
The ACLU in Arizona filed a lawsuit on behalf of a group of taxpayers challenging the program as a violation of the establishment clause. They claimed that because tax credits were being given for donations to scholarships that might be used toward tuition at religious schools, it amounted to a government endorsement of religion. Did you follow that logic?
Here’s the problem with the ACLU’s position. The program is completely neutral. It does not endorse any religious behavior or practice. Families who receive a scholarship choose where the money goes, not the government. Moms and dads decide whether to use the funds at a secular or religious private school. The constitution requires that the government remain neutral, not the families using the program.
The ACLU made another curious claim. They reasoned that the tax credit provided by the state amounted to the government handing over money to scholarship organizations. But this assumes the money donated toward scholarships belongs to the government, not private citizens. In reality money never reaches the government at all, under the program. The Court dismissed this crazy claim saying, “When Arizona taxpayers choose to contribute to STO’s (scholarship organizations), they spend their own money, not money the State has collected from respondents or from other taxpayers…. Private bank accounts cannot be equated with the Arizona State Treasury.”
Apparently, ACLU attorneys wake up every day worrying that some children might be praying in a school that’s received money that could have been the government’s. That’s right. We’re not talking about money that is the government’s, we’re talking about money that could have been taxed and raked into government coffers. By that logic, not one single cent of anyone’s private financial resources can be spent on anything of a religious nature because there’s nothing that can’t be taxed.
The U.S. Supreme Court rightly rejected the claims of the lawsuit – finding that those who brought the suit lacked the legal standing to do so. The Court also rejected the claim that money donated to the program amounted to the government handing over money to a scholarship organization or that an establishment of religion claim could be made.
The tuition tax credit scholarship won out in the end. It was a win for private financial choices, it was a win for a sensible scholarship program, it was a win for families’ ability to choose for themselves where their child should attend school. But more than anything else, it was a win for thousands of school children who get up each morning and attend a better school because their family could make that choice.
Randy Hicks is the president of the Georgia Family Council, a non-profit research and education organization committed to fostering conditions in which individuals, families and communities thrive.
at 5:25 PM