Blaine Amendments: Plaguing State Constitutions Since the 1800s
Douglas County School District in Castle Rock, Colorado, was dealt a tough blow Monday. The Colorado Supreme Court ruled Douglas County’s educational voucher program unconstitutional. Unlike other cases where public school districts fight school choice programs tooth and nail, Douglas County is defending its parents’ right to choose. The Choice Scholarship Pilot Program provided students who had attended Douglas County for one year with a voucher worth 75 percent of per pupil public funding. Funds could be directed toward private schools, including religious schools.
The program was challenged in 2011, because, like Missouri, Colorado has a Blaine Amendment. “This stark constitutional provision makes one thing clear: A school district may not aid religious schools,” the ruling stated.
Blaine Amendments prevent states from directing public funds toward religious schools. Thirty-seven state constitutions have them.
Douglas County School District officials said they will likely ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case. In 2002, the Supreme Court found Ohio’s voucher program did not conflict with the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. The Court found the program was neutral toward religion as it was created to provide educational assistance to poor children, not to divert funds solely toward religious schools.
In 2004, though, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a state’s Blaine Amendment. The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of Washington’s scholarship program, which excluded theology majors from receiving public funds. Still, the majority of rulings concerning voucher programs and Blaine Amendments have favored school choice programs.
It is unclear how the school district will proceed, but it is clear by the 500 students who opted to participate in the program that parents want a choice in how their children are educated. I will be rooting for this innovative school district, and I hope that, ultimately, #choicewins.