Montana Fights to Save Choice Program

By Kimberly Sawatka

It’s déja vous in Montana as a constitutional battle is emerging over a recently passed educational choice tax credit program, which gives children scholarships to attend the private school of their parents’ choice. The Montana Department of Revenue is attempting to block families from using scholarship funds at religious schools. A very similar battle took place in Louisiana, but the argument ultimately failed.

A majority of the private schools in the state are religious schools. Choice opponents are arguing the state constitution does not allow state funds to funnel into religious schools. The department of revenue proposed a rule stating money would not be allocated to a religious school even if it is partly owned or controlled by a religious institution. However, the money actually funnels through scholarship organizations and is then dispersed to students and their families to use at a school that works for them.

The program will begin accepting donations to scholarship granting organizations on Jan. 1. The program allows for up to $6 million in scholarships to be granted to students to attend the public or private school of their choice around the state. The program caps are designed to increase with time, as the program is utilized by more and more Montana families.

Many in favor of the school choice program argue that excluding the religious schools creates constitutional issues of exclusions of equal protection.

The Montana Department of Revenue wants parents to choose only a school that the state government approves, which isn’t true choice at all. We hope that children in Montana can exercise true choice and attend a school that works for their unique needs and helps them succeed.

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