Decision Reached in Carson v. Makin
The US Supreme court recently issued a ruling on the Carson v. Makin case regarding Maine’s public education voucher system. The case concerned whether Maine’s “voucher” school system should permit parents to send their children to religious schools using public funding.
Maine’s unique school voucher system was designed to address unique challenges of public education in a highly rural state. Maine is one of, if not the most rural state within the United States2. This means that much of the state is very separated, with vast open land areas that are not heavily populated. Because of this, it often does not make sense to build schools in certain areas, even though there may be school-aged residents living here. To accommodate this, Maine implemented a voucher system, which allows parents to send their children to private schools that may be closer and more accessible to their families than the nearest public school. This voucher system allows parents to choose a private school for their children to attend using state public education funding.
Until the recent Carson v. Makin case decision, parents could not choose to send their children to religious schools under Maine’s voucher law. The rationale behind this restriction was that it would be a breach of the separation between church and state. The Supreme Court, in the June 30, 2020 Espinoza v Montana ruling, had already ruled to eliminate discrimination against religious schools, requiring that if a state applies public funds to private schools, there could be no eligibility criteria based on whether or not the school was a religious school. Maine attempted to argue that the Espinoza ruling did not apply for technical reasons.
However, on Tuesday, June 21, the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that families under Maine’s voucher system would be able to send their children to religious schools if the families so desired2. Ironically, the court made this new ruling under the same argument that had previously prevented families from sending their children to religious schools under this system. Specifically, they explained that disallowing a family from sending their children to religious schools under the voucher system would violate the family’s first amendment right to freedom of religion.
This decision establishes greater clarity concerning the breadth of the former Espinoza ruling and furthers precedent for the extension of public education systems to include private education providers.
Carson v. Makin. American Civil Liberties Union. (2022, June 21). Retrieved June 28, 2022, from https://www.aclu.org/cases/carson-v-makin
Millhiser, I. (2022, June 21). The Supreme Court tears a new hole in the wall separating Church and State. Vox. Retrieved June 28, 2022, from https://www.vox.com/2022/6/21/23176893/supreme-court-carson-makin-religion-schools-vouchers-chief-justice-roberts