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Hope that Grows with Tomorrow's Hope Executive Director, Ismini Scouras

The school choice movement got a major boost last month when the U.S. Supreme Court made a blockbuster First Amendment ruling in the Carson v. Makin case in Maine, dealing with religious freedom.

The Supreme Court’s 6-3 decision in Carson v. Makin ruled that a tuition assistance program in the state of Maine unconstitutionally discriminates against faith-based schools. Maine is now required to fund religious education within its tuition assistance program, which uses taxpayer dollars to help students living in rural areas far from public schools attend a private school closer to home. The Court decided that Maine’s exclusion of religious schools from its program was “discrimination against religion” because it violated the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause.

The ruling could set the stage for other states to expand their school choice programs—if public funding is available for secular and private schools, it must extend to faith-based schools as well; they should be treated fairly and equitably. This is a huge step in allowing families to choose the school that works best for their children. The larger effects of the ruling are still being debated among pundits with strong opinions on both sides. But for champions of school choice and Catholic education, this is a victory!

“This is good news for American school children. Faith-based schools have a long and proven track record of providing high-quality education, especially for our most-disadvantaged children, and policies that exclude them from private-school choice programs are both unconstitutional and unwise,” said Nicole Stelle Garnett, an adjunct fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a professor at the Notre Dame Law School.

Indeed, Catholic schools have educated generations of immigrants in the United States. Our schools provide a high-quality, faith-based education that puts our children on a path to success both personally and professionally. It is important that we continue to ensure that our Catholic schools thrive—the U.S. Supreme Court thinks so, too.

According to Dale McDonald, PBVM, Ph.D., National Catholic Educational Association’s Vice President of Public Policy, with this ruling, the Court affirmed the purpose of Catholic education because it rejected the argument that distinctions be made between the status of a school as a religious entity and the use of funding for religious purposes.

"Educating young people in their faith, inculcating its teachings, and training them to live their faith are responsibilities that lie at the very core of the mission of a private religious school," McDonald said in a statement.

Will New York State adopt school choice programs, such as vouchers, that will provide the funding for parents to educate their children in faith-based schools? It’s highly unlikely…for now. However, Governor Hochul did recommend an 18% increase in funding to support Catholic and other religious and independent schools when she released her first state budget proposal earlier this year. Funding for health, safety and security projects tripled to $45 million, and support for STEM instruction increased to $55 million from $40 million.

Still, tuition assistance is the greatest need for families who are shouldering the burden of paying taxes and Catholic school tuition in New York, especially Long Island. Let’s hope this latest Court ruling buoys the momentum needed in giving families in New York greater educational options for their children that would include faith-based schools.

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