A Public Education Case At The Supreme Court

The justices consider whether barring public funds to religious schools is a type of illegal discrimination

Yesterday was an exciting, and exhausting day as I covered oral arguments at the U.S. Supreme Court for a case concerning how and whether taxpayer money can flow to religious schools. The case is Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, and supporters of the plaintiffs hope a favorable outcome could pave the way for more government subsidies to private schools, while opponents say the future of public education hangs in the balance.

The courtroom has very limited seating for journalists, and if you want to cover a case — which I have done only once before, in 2016 — you email the Court’s press representative to ask if you can have media access that day. So I emailed them on January 10th, and a week later they approved me to go. This was my day-pass to get in:

For The American Prospect I covered the background of the case, what the Justices asked about in court, and the potential long-run implications.

The TLDR: The Supreme Court has long held it’s legal for states to include religious schools in their private-school voucher programs. But now the justices have to decide if it should be mandatory to include religious schools in those voucher programs, and whether it would be unconstitutional to offer no subsidies to religious schools at all.

Advocates for public education see a positive ruling for the plaintiffs as deeply threatening to both the separation of church and state, and the ability to financially support a robust public-education system. School choice advocates are hopeful that a positive ruling could make it easier to expand voucher programs to private and religious schools in the future.

I will say it was a pretty remarkable experience to hear the Justices in person, especially when they interrupted the attorneys, or sounded straight up annoyed. It’s pretty wild that in 2020 there still are no video recordings allowed in the courtroom. Journalists are also only allowed to bring in pen and paper, all recording devices, including cellphones, iWatches etc had to be left outside. (They do publish online transcripts of the proceedings.)

You can read the full story here.

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