The Notre Dame Law School Religious Liberty Clinic today submitted an amicus brief to the Kentucky Supreme Court on behalf of EdChoice Kentucky, which represents a broad coalition supporting Parent Choice. The clinic’s brief aims to ensure that parents in Kentucky will have access to the educational choices for their children provided through the Kentucky Educational Opportunity Account program.
Passed last year, the Education Opportunity Account program provides a tax credit for donations to private organizations that offer education savings accounts to low-income families. These accounts can be used for a wide range of education expenses, including private and faith-based school tuition. The Kentucky Supreme Court is reviewing a lower court ruling that struck down the program on state constitutional grounds and suggested that expanding access to public and private schools did not serve a public purpose.
The amicus brief demonstrates how programs such as the Education Opportunity Account program not only provide tremendous opportunities for children who need access to high quality schools, especially the most disadvantaged, but also promote the public good. .
Throughout our country’s history, private and faith-based schools have played a central role in educating children and in training them to be productive members of their communities. This is no less true today. For example, in Kentucky, private schools educate about 70,000 students a year, many of whom come from underserved communities.
The brief observes that the Kentucky Supreme Court has previously identified several fundamental goals of a K12 education, which focus on preparing students for further college or the job market, developing self-awareness and well-being of children and the promotion of civic understanding and engagement.
Decades of research, cited in the brief, demonstrate that private schools provide an education that serves each of these purposes. The summary reviews research that shows how school choice in other states has led to better academic achievement and other significant longer-term effects, including increased graduation rates. secondary education and university enrollment and persistence.
As the brief shows, the benefits of private schools, and thus the promise of expanding access through parental choice, extend beyond academics. He says: “This Court has long trusted private schools to ‘teach children to be intelligent citizens’ and ‘to participate in the democratic system.’… Real-world experience shows that is exactly what private schools do. Studies have shown that, on the whole, private schools and especially faith-based schools “are more successful in preparing students to be engaged members of a diverse and democratic society.”
The brief further rejects the lower court’s suggestion that the Kentucky program would “exacerbate inequality and increase the disparity in educational opportunities available to all children.”
On the contrary, the brief states that “Kentucky’s EOA program is an important step in ending this disparity and making higher educational opportunities available to all,” including especially children of color, children from low-income families and children with special learning needs. “Programs that open the doors to private schools by making them more affordable help disadvantaged families the most.”
Nicole Stelle Garnett, John P. Murphy Foundation law professor at Notre Dame Law School, whose research on education policy is cited several times in the brief, said, “Kentucky is to be commended for have embraced the Educational Opportunity Account program, which brings high-quality schools to the children who need them most and will enable parents – their children’s first and best educators – to choose the schools that meet their needs, including faith-based schools. There is no reasonable argument that the program does not advance the common good or serve a public purpose.
John Meiser, supervising attorney at the Religious Liberty Clinic, wrote the brief with Garnett and submitted it with Philip D. Williamson, a partner at Taft Stettnius & Hollister LLP in Cincinnati. Meiser added: “The fear of the lower court that not all the private school will be the right person for all the child misses out on the essentials of the Kentucky curriculum. The goal is to enable families to find the schools that best suit their children, rather than leaving them locked into schools that don’t meet their needs. This measure opening up the universe of school options – public, private, religious and secular – to children in Kentucky should be applauded.
Andrew Vandiver, President of EdChoice Kentucky, added, “Kentucky’s nonpublic schools were founded to serve students and promote the common good. The EOA Act will allow these schools to serve students in unique ways that will instill a love lifelong learning and will encourage We greatly appreciate the work of the Notre Dame Religious Liberty Clinic in sharing the story of nonpublic school education in Kentucky and how that legacy of service continues to this day.
Peter Allevato, Luray Buckner, Megan Schneider and Athanasius Sirilla, students at Notre Dame Law School Religious Liberty Clinic, also provided assistance with the case.
About Notre Dame Law School’s Religious Freedom Initiative
Established in 2020, the Notre Dame Law School Religious Liberty Initiative promotes and defends religious freedom for people of all faiths through scholarships, events, and the law school’s Religious Liberty Clinic. The initiative protects the freedom of individuals to hold religious beliefs as well as their right to exercise, express and live by those beliefs.
The Religious Freedom Initiative has represented individuals and organizations from a range of religious traditions to defend the right to religious worship, to preserve sacred lands from destruction, to promote the freedom to choose religious ministers, and to prevent discrimination against religious schools and families.
Learn more about law.nd.edu/RLI.