Late last week, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its decision in Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v. Winn, overturning the notoriously biased Ninth District Court’s decision against the case and throwing out the challenge to Arizona’s tuition tax credit legislation. The Supreme Court’s ruling marks the culmination of 14 years of work . I authored the bill in 1995 and it passed in the Arizona State Legislature in 1997. It is my prayer that it will prove, in the long run, to be not only a victory for children and parents in Arizona, but a victory for children, parents, and individual liberty nationwide.
In short, the Arizona Tuition Tax Credit program gives children the opportunity to acquire the best education possible, by providing scholarships for the school of their parent’s choice. The scholarships are funded by individuals who contribute to eligible non-profit “school tuition organizations” (which must use at least 90% of the contributions to fund scholarships).
As a result of their contribution (up to $500 for an individual, or $1,000 for a couple filing jointly), the individuals contributing receive a dollar-for-dollar tax credit, and a parent who might not otherwise be able to afford the best possible education for their child is unhindered by financial restrictions to choose the school that is best for their child, instead of having the government arbitrarily choose their child’s school based on what ZIP code they happen to call home.
Tuition tax credit programs are able to overcome accusations of spending taxpayer dollars to “fund religion,” because the money never enters the government’s coffers. The contributions come from private donors, not public funds; they are made on a purely voluntary basis and are used to send someone else’s child to a private school of the parents’ private choice. The provided tax credit merely encourages these private contributions.
Seeing that their main line of reasoning had been pulled out from under them by the structure of the tax credit program, the vehemently anti-school choice activists at the NEA and ACLU took their arguments to new and dazzlingly absurd heights, claiming that the money is still government property — that, in fact, ALL money is inherently government property (at least until the government is kind enough to “allow” citizens to keep a portion of their own paychecks).
Such a ruling, if upheld, would have given those with a mind for liberal judicial activism grounds to raise constitutional challenges against ANY tax credit or program with which they disagreed. Everything from charitable contributions, to tithes at your local church, to tax credits for married couples and parents would have become fair game. Had the Ninth District’s ruling been upheld, a massive new front in the war on traditional values and religious freedom would have immediately been created.
Though the Supreme Court’s ruling should not have been close, the 5-4 vote demonstrates how unspeakably vital elections are. As it stands now, a misstep in the nomination and confirmation of even one Supreme Court Justice can singlehandedly undermine the very foundations of democracy, stifle educational opportunity, and push our nation toward a scenario under which every penny in every American’s pocket is deemed government property.
Nonetheless, by overturning the Ninth Circuit’s asinine ruling, the Supreme Court’s decision ensures the 100,000-plus children currently under scholarship in Arizona (who would likely be unable to enjoy a private education otherwise) will continue to receive the best possible education, and the similar programs inspired by Arizona’s tuition tax credit legislation that have covered 250,000 children in nine states will now serve as models for the rest of the country.
Opponents of this legislation have spent 14 years trying to derail it through any means possible. Having now survived challenges at practically every level, including in the Arizona Supreme Court, the Ninth District Court of Appeals, and the U.S. Supreme Court, I pray that those attacks will end, that the Scholarship Tax Credit approach will now be enacted across the nation, and that, someday, millions of American children will find a brighter future as a result.
Congressman Franks is serving his fifth term in the U.S. House of Representatives and is a member of the Judiciary Committee, where he serves as Chairman of the Subcommittee on the Constitution and a member of the Subcommittee on Courts, Commercial and Administrative Law. He is also a member of the Armed Services Committee, where he serves on the Strategic Forces Subcommittee and the Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities.
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