Justices should affirm lower federal courts in Carson v. Makin, decline to force states to fund private schools

By: Staci Maiers, NEA

WASHINGTON — The 3-million member National Education Association filed an amicus brief in Carson v. Makin, arguing that Maine’s school funding program is constitutional. The American Federation of TeachersMaine Education Association, Sanford Federation of Teachers AFT Local 377, and the Service Employees International Union joined the friend-of-the-court brief.

Carson v. Makin is the latest in a series of radical lawsuits filed by powerful interests—like former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and her anti-public education allies—to expand voucher programs across the nation. They are using the courts to privatize education because voters overwhelmingly oppose vouchers in their communities,” said NEA President Becky Pringle. “No court has ever concluded that states are required to provide public money for private school tuition with no strings attached to ensure education quality or prevent discrimination. Yet the petitioners and their backers seek such a ruling now.”

The petitioners in Carson are asking the Supreme Court to force Maine to pay for private education—even when private schools fail to meet education standards, intentionally discriminate against students, or promote religious training, worship, and instruction. Parents who prefer private schools, like the petitioners, can already send their children to private schools, including religious schools, at their own expense. But the petitioners want the Supreme Court to declare that Maine taxpayers are constitutionally required to foot the bill for their children’s private schools. States can, and should, be able to keep public money in schools that provide public education.

“There is a responsibility to provide great public schools for all students—no matter what they look like, where they’re from, where they live, or which language they speak,” said Grace Leavitt, a high school Spanish teacher who is serving as president of the Maine Education Association. “Improving public schools requires more money, not less, and public money should only be used to help public education. And vouchers are the exact opposite of what students need because they strip public schools of scarce funds and give them to private schools that are unaccountable to the public.”

NEA has consistently advocated for proven solutions for improving student outcomes in public education, like providing sufficient resources for neighborhood public schools so that students have inviting classrooms, a well-rounded curriculum, small class sizes, and access to health care, nutrition, and after-school programs for students who need them.

“Public schools remain one of our most powerful institutions for maintaining a democratic society and fostering common understanding among our people. The Supreme Court must not make a radical departure from our traditions and remove the wall between church and state,” added Pringle. “Doing so would radically transform public education and impose an education policy through judicial fiat that Americans have long rejected. The Supreme Court’s job is to interpret the Constitution, not invent doctrines to promote radical education policy outcomes. The Supreme Court justices should follow the six other federal courts that have upheld the Maine law at issue in Carson v. Makin and should decline to force Maine to fund private education.”

The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral argument in the case on Dec. 8.

Follow on Twitter at @NEAmedia, @BeckyPringle and @MaineEA

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The National Education Association is the nation’s largest professional employee organization, representing more than 3 million elementary and secondary teachers, higher education faculty, education support professionals, school administrators, retired educators, students preparing to become teachers, healthcare workers, and public employees. Learn more at www.nea.org.