A U.S. Supreme Court ruling ending state provisions that bar taxpayer aid to private religious schools preserves a source of funding for Mennonite elementary and high schools.
The June 30 ruling is considered a major victory for advocates of the “school choice movement.” The court ruled 5-4 that state tax credit programs benefiting private schools cannot exclude religious institutions.
The decision is part of a string of recent rulings lowering the wall separating church and state. As many as 38 states had constitutional provisions barring taxpayer aid to religious schools.
Conrad Swartzentruber, chair of the Mennonite Schools Council, said the decision was significant because if it had gone the other way — allowing states to disqualify private religious schools from state funding vehicles — this would have greatly impacted MSC members.
“As it turned out, it won’t likely affect us or change what we do and how we currently relate to the state,” said Conrad Swartzentruber, who is also superintendent of Dock Mennonite Academy in Lansdale, Pa. “Most of our schools have been using state funds for many years without the state infringing upon our values, although there may be some schools that have chosen to not accept state funds. That decision by our schools is not likely to change.”
Swartzendruber noted a reverse decision could have impacted budgets, but most member schools keep a close eye on the relatively small percentage of their budgets that come from state funds.
There are 20 U.S. MSC members, which offer grades between preschool and 12 in Puerto Rico, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, South Dakota, Iowa, Arizona, Florida and Oregon.