Is Franklin County Violating The State’s Blaine Amendment?
A recent article on emissourian.com questioned whether a Franklin County program violates the Missouri Constitution.
Franklin County has and continues to violate the state’s Constitution by allocating hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars annually to fund counseling and antibullying programs in area private schools.
That’s according to Tony Rothert, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri.
The Blaine Amendment of the Missouri Constitution prohibits the use of public funds to support or sustain any school controlled by any religious creed, church, or sectarian denomination. The Missouri Supreme Court previously struck down statutes requiring that bus services and textbooks be provided to private school students.
Annie Schulte, executive director of the Franklin County Children and Families Community Resource Board (FCCRB), raised a number of arguments detailing why the program does not violate the Missouri Constitution; unfortunately, none of them are very persuasive. The use of public funds to support a sectarian school is unconstitutional, whether the funds are paid directly to the school or indirectly support the school. The Franklin County program is also not analogous to Title I. Title I grants bypass the state and local agencies and go directly to independent contractors. Because no state or local agency ever controls the funds, they are not “public funds.” The FCCRB, on the other hand, is a local agency and does control the funds.
The fact that the Franklin County program seemingly is unconstitutional is an illustration of how the Blaine Amendment currently stands as an obstacle to the freedom of school choice for students in failing districts, such as Saint Louis and Kansas City. As University of Missouri-Columbia Professor Michael Podgursky argued, the rigidity of the Blaine Amendment is keeping students stuck in unaccredited schools following the Missouri Supreme Court’s Turner decision. While the Supreme Court of the United States held that a voucher program for students to attend a private sectarian school does not violate the federal constitution, it is clear that a similar program would be struck down in Missouri. If the state cannot provide private school students with books, buses, and (probably) counseling services, a voucher program stands no chance of passing constitutional muster.
It is unfortunate that students at private sectarian schools likely cannot receive counseling services from the Franklin County program, but students who are stuck in unaccredited, failing schools is a much bigger issue. Given accredited public schools’ unwillingness to accept students from failing districts, these students may remain stuck until the Blaine Amendment is repealed.