Among the Supreme Court's recent spate of controversial rulings, two of them, in particular, stand to impact Nebraska public schools. Let's take a quick look:
Carson v. Makin: In a 6-3 decision, Chief Justice John Roberts' majority opinion struck down a Maine law which prohibited the use of state-funded vouchers at private, religious schools. An earlier SCOTUS decision also upheld the constitutionality of vouchers but stopped short of mandating the funding of private, religious schools. However, Carson v. Makin goes much further and lays a troubling foundation for public schools that are already chronically under-funded and -resourced. Maine chooses to fund a private education for rural students who do not have a secondary school in their district, but had prohibited tuition funds from being directed toward "sectarian" schools - a reflection of Maine's desire not to fund religious education and commitment to the Establishment Clause. Chief Justice Roberts again reiterates his reasoning from Espinoza v. Montana: "A State need not subsidize private education. But once a State decides to do so, it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious." As Justice Sonia Sotomayor described in her dissent: "Today, the Court leads us to a place where separation of church and state becomes a constitutional violation. If a State cannot offer subsidies to its citizens without being required to fund religious exercise, any State that values its historic anti-establishment interests more than this Court does will have to curtail the support it offers to its citizens." We worry this decision opens the door to the public funding of religious charter schools and may prevent proper oversight of school voucher programs, but we do take some solace in the fact that Nebraska's legislators can avoid the issue altogether by simply not directing public funds to private schools.
Kennedy v. Bremerton: In another 6-3 decision, the conservative majority sided against a public school district that placed an assistant high school football coach on administrative leave when, after being asked to stop and refusing accommodations, the coach continued to lead "motivational prayers" for players, students, opposing teams, politicians, and members of the public on the 50-yard line after games. Vox explains the strange factual and legal history of the case and its potential implications for educators and school districts. We agree with Taryn Darling, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU of Washington, who said, "The freedom to hold beliefs that differ from those with authority has been a founding principle of our country. It is disappointing that today’s decision erodes protections for public school students to learn and grow free of coercion."
These and other recent rulings represent what we believe is a dangerous shift within our nation's highest court, gutting decades of established law and dismantling the separation of church and state.
At Stand For Schools, we are heavyhearted but not dismayed. We remain committed to supporting all students in Nebraska - no matter what religion, if any, they practice - and to protecting the bedrock of our democracy: public education.
We will continue working to ensure every school building and district has the resources it needs to serve all children. And that means we will continue opposing the privatization of Nebraska's public schools via scholarship tax credits or other voucher-like schemes that threaten the stability and sustainability of our school system.
As always, thanks for standing with us,
The Stand For Schools Team