Tag: ACSTO

Dear Journalists, Donations Are Not ‘State Money’

Oklahoma has just joined the ranks of a half-dozen other states by enacting a K-12 education tax credit program. Under the new program, individuals or businesses that donate to non-profit School Tuition Organizations receive a tax cut worth 50 percent of the donation. STOs then use the funds to help low income families afford private schooling.

Journalists for the Associated Press and countless other media outlets routinely refer to donations made under education tax credit programs as “state money.” According to the United States Supreme Court’s recent ACSTO v. Winn decision, “that is incorrect.” This is a matter of settled law. To call these private donations “state money” is to misrepresent the facts and mislead readers.

It would be bad enough if the journalists and wire services misrepresenting these programs were simply unaware that they were distorting the facts, but in at least some cases they continue to do so even after having been apprized of their error. Brandon Dutcher, vice president for policy at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, wrote to the AP last week to correct their earlier erroneous coverage. He received no reply and the errors continue.

I never cease to be amazed by this kind of behavior from an industry that is clinging for its life. The purpose of journalism is to apprize customers of the facts. Demonstrating indifference to the facts cannot be good for business.

Taxpayer Choice + Parental Choice = Education Reform That’s Constitutional

Arizona grants income tax credits for contributions made to school tuition organizations (“STO”).  These STOs must these donations for scholarships that allow students to attend private schools.  This statutory scheme broadens the educational opportunities for thousands of students by enabling them to attend schools they would otherwise lack the means to attend. 

The Ninth Circuit held that the tax credit program violated the Establishment Clause because many of the STOs – as it happens, a decreasing majority – provide scholarships for students to attend parochial schools.  Counsel for the defendants, including the Institute for Justice, asked the Supreme Court to review the case – and indeed to summarily reverse the Ninth Circuit, based in part on a 2002 case (Zelman v. Simmons-Harris) rejecting a similar challenge to a school voucher program.  Cato filed a brief, joined by the Foundation for Educational Choice and the American Federation for Children, supporting this request. 

Our brief argues that the funds received by STOs are the product of individual taxpayers’ “genuine and independent choice” – the touchstone by which the Court judges the religious neutrality of statutes allowing for taxpayer money to fund religious education.  Moreover, the tax credit scheme is indistinguishable from similar charitable tax deduction programs that the Court has previously held to pass constitutional muster.  While the Ninth Circuit reasoned that Arizona parents feel pressured to send their kids to parochial schools due to limited scholarships available for secular schools, it failed to consider that the share of STO money available to secular schools was nearly twice as large as the share of families choosing to send their children to secular schools. 

Far from being an impediment to parental freedom, the autonomy Arizona grants to taxpayers and STOs is ultimately essential to it.  More generally, should the lower court’s opinion be allowed to stand, the progress made to broaden the educational opportunities of students across the country will be stifled. 

The name of the case is Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v. Winn.  The Court will likely decide before it breaks for the summer whether to take it up – and, indeed, whether to summarily reverse the Ninth Circuit.