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  • School Choice in the Supreme Court: Does All Your Money Belong to the Government?

    Tuesday’s election results aren’t the only outcomes this week likely to impact the future of school choice across the country. Yesterday, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v. Winn to determine whether the Grand Canyon State’s scholarship tax credit program violates the establishment clause. The Wall Street Journal writes today:

    As ever, the American Civil Liberties Union and other rigid secularists argue that this is unconstitutional support for religion because most parents seek out religiously affiliated programs. A three-judge panel on the oft-overturned Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals bought that argument, reversing a lower court that had upheld the state tax credits.

    However, even the Arizona program’s critics concede that every element is religiously neutral and a matter of private parental choice. The state plays only a minor role in administering the tax credits, no role in selecting the donors. While the tax credits reduce state tax revenue, the resulting scholarships also reduce the state’s expense on public education.

    But during oral arguments, it quickly became clear that support for school choice programs, or lack thereof, is not just about whether the government is indirectly supporting religious institutions. It has just as much to do with a philosophical belief about the money you earn and how much of it “belongs” to the government.

    Paul Bender, arguing against the scholarship tax credit program, suggested that charitable donations made by individuals and corporations to scholarship-granting organizations should really be viewed as government money. From the transcripts:

    MR. BENDER: … The STOs [scholarship tuition organizations] are government grantees. They are distributing government funds. The Constitution prohibits organizations that distribute government funds as part of a government spending program to do it on the basis of religion.

    JUSTICE SCALIA: That’s a great leap to say that it’s government funds, that any money the government doesn’t take from me because it gives me a deduction is government money. I mean, that’s the first leap you make.

    MR. BENDER: This is money that the government takes from people.

    JUSTICE SCALIA: This money has never been in the government’s coffers. The government has declined to take this money.

    MR. BENDER: But it’s money that’s raised by the state’s income tax. Every tax-credited dollar is a dollar that has to be paid either to the government as income taxes due or to an STO.

    JUSTICE KENNEDY: … I must say, I have some difficulty that any money that the government doesn’t take from me is still the government’s money.

    JUSTICE ALITO: … There is a very important philosophical point here. You think that all the money belongs to the government—except to the extent that it deigns to allow private people to keep some of it.

    MR. BENDER: I do not.

    JUSTICE ALITO: It doesn’t take it by taxes.

    MR. BENDER: No.

    JUSTICE ALITO: That’s what your whole argument is based on.

    MR. BENDER: No, it isn’t, Justice Alito. My argument is that if the government imposes an income tax, and people owe the government a certain amount of money in income taxes due, that—and the government says you don’t have to pay it to us, you can pay it to an STO, that that is a payment of government funds.

    JUSTICE SCALIA: They don’t owe it to the government if they have made this contribution. That’s the whole point.

    Beyond the heated philosophical debate about whether any money the government refuses to take from me is actually government money, the court will be deciding a case that has concrete and profound implications for the parents and children of Arizona. Since 1997, Arizona’s scholarship tax credit program has assisted thousands of children to secure better educational opportunities, helping more than 27,000 children last year alone attend a private school of their choice.

    A ruling in favor of the scholarship tax program would establish yet again that school choice is constitutional.

    It would be a shame for politics—and a liberal philosophy that holds that the money earned from the hard work ordinary Americans belongs not to them but to the state—would prohibit children from receiving a quality education.

    Posted in Education [slideshow_deploy]

    7 Responses to School Choice in the Supreme Court: Does All Your Money Belong to the Government?

    1. Mike, Wichita Falls says:

      I realize that this is only a small excerpt from oral arguments and includes only one statement from Justice Kennedy, but I believe that his one statement bodes well for AZ private schoolers as he has become the high court's new swing vote.

      What would the ACLU, and the high court, have said to say…Arizona Muslim School Tuition Organization v. Winn.

    2. Dennis Georgia says:

      The ACLU is so wrong! One day all of the aclu will stand before the same God as the rest of us, Jews, Christans, Muslims and the others. We will all try to explian how we were right and that our wrongs were not all that bad. I do believe when one stand aganist the very existance of God, fights to remove Him from everything, there will be no explaing good enough. Judgement will be for all of us in the end.

    3. Drew Page, IL says:

      Unfortunately, there are those in this country who believe that all money is (or should be) free for the taking from citizens by the government, to be redistributed as the government sees fit. Among this group I believe there are three different constituencies:

      1. There are those who pay no federal income taxes and therefore have no problem with the government providing more services, so long as there is no cost to them. The guy who goes to dinner on someone else's tab has no problem recommending the finest restaurant in town.

      2. There are those who believe in a utopian state that operates under the philosophy "from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs". Here, the government would become parents to us all, telling everyone what to do, how to do it, providing food and shelter, much like a family pet.

      3. A number of those holding such opinions are politicians who recommend this utopian welfare state for everyone except themselves; exempting themselves, their property and their wealth from such confiscation and redistribution. Orwell described it best in Animal Farm – "All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others".

      Most reasonable people understand that certain services can only be provided by a federal government and that such services must be paid for. Most people are willing to pay taxes to pay for such services. Most reasonable people understand that there will always be a number of citizens who need government assistence in order to survive and are willing to pay taxes to support that need. But there comes a point when reasonable people will say "Enough". That point varies from individual to individual.

      There are extremely wealthy people like Warren Buffet and Bill Gates who believe that the super wealthy, like themselves, should give away at least half their wealth and that's great, as long as it's a voluntary action instead of a government law. Nothing is stopping these individuals from doing exactly that. Similarly, nothing is stopping individuals who believe the government should provide more social welfare programs here and in other countries from sending a larger portion of their earning to the IRS, who will be most happy to take their money.

      Prior to my retirement, I was paying Federal, FICA and State income taxes of 38%, property tax on my home equal to 4% of my income and an average sales tax of 7.5% of every dollar of "after tax income" I spend. In total, that's approximately 50% of what I earned. I know there are people that pay a higher percentage of their income in taxes, but I also know that 50% of wage earners in the country pay no federal income taxes.

      When I get to keep less than 50% of what I earn, Ive got a problem with that. I also want to know just what entitles someone else to tell me I'm not paying my "fair share" in taxes when I am paying near 50% of what I earned to support a lot of people who pay no federal taxes, who live off the government dole, who do nothing to improve themselves and who perpetuate their cycles of ignorance and poverty by dropping out of school, not working and having several children out of wedlock. To all those who worry about the world's poor, my advice is to adopt them and support them like your own children. Pay for your charity and/or guilt out of your own pocket, don't stick me with the tab for it.

    4. Daniel Colgan says:

      The opponents of school choice have no problem with our children being held hostage by failing public schools. No child deserves to be put in that position because their parents lack the necessary funds to bail them out. Teacher unions who are the main culprits in our educational decline know if school choice is adopted it'll jeopardize their monopoly on education and they dread having to compete for students. The current system prevents parents with little means from exercising their God given right to educate their offspring at schools of their choosing, public or private. We only need to compare our education standing with other countries to realize that the social promoted products that the public schools are turning loose into society is a direct cause.

    5. Dave Aldridge says:

      My wife is a part-time GED teacher. She stays informed on the latest state statistics. According to the State of Ohio scores from proficiency tests, 37% of the high school graduates from"public" high schools can't even pass the GED reading skills test. Private, home schooled and religious sponsored school students average in the 87 to 97 percentile. As long as there are teachers unions dictating who can and can't teach, this is the result. I know for sure teachers in Catholic schools don't make any where near what public "union" school teachers make. They are there because they want to be there and the kids show the results.

    6. Jan Klein says:

      I wish our Justices knew more about taxes…parents profit from the "tuition scholarship" by the STATE tax CREDIT and a FEDERAL deduction. It's theft!

    7. Mac Earl says:

      Income tax was supposed to be on GAIN, not on labor. Tax on labor is nothing but slightly disguised slavery. When the state (government) takes part of a worker's wages (salary or other compensation) it is forcing him(her) to work for the state in that portion of the wages it takes.
      No slaveowner ever took 100% of a slave's labor, else the slave would not survive the day. Every slave has to be allowed part of his(her) day for sleep, eating, care of the body, and so on. Experience is that in outright slavery the slave "pays" about 10% to the master and 90% goes for the support and care of the slave. In serfdom, where the peasant is attached to the land (real estate), the serf is more productive as (s)he is less unfree, not being personal property of the master. Historically serfs "paid" about 25% of their higher productivity to the master and the other 75% went to the support and care of the serf and his(her) family. Now, the "free" man or woman pays in all around 60-70% of his(her) productivity to the state and keeps perhaps 30-40% for him(her)self.
      This system works because mechanization has multiplied the production per worker, so that the state can take a much larger part while the worker still comes out with more. It is not moral advances in society that has abolished overt chattel slavery but technology.
      Sometimes advances in technology can seem counterproductive. The slave system for cotton farming was nearing an end when the cotton "gin" (engine) was invented, making the removal of cottonseed far more efficient (cheap). Unfortunately cotton picking was still done by hand, so slavery was revived to keep up cotton production in the field with the gins. The cotton picker was not practical until the late 1940s into the 1950s. Because of this revival of slavery due to one technological advance, it did not fade away as it had been doing but was abolished in the USA by a very devastating war.

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