Education

The Supreme Court is gearing up to decide next term whether states can ban students from using student-aid programs to attend religious institutions – an education dispute that could have major ramifications for the school choice movement.

The justices announced at the end of last month’s session that they will take up the case of Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue — which concerns whether states can ban student-aid programs that allow families to choose religious schools for their children. In December 2018, the Montana Supreme Court struck down a tax-credit scholarship program in the state, saying the program violated the state constitution’s “No-Aid clause” barring government money for religious schools because it had allowed students to use the money for that purpose.

“Every parent should have the right to choose where they send their kids to school,” Kendra Espinoza, one of the plaintiffs challenging the Montana decision, told Fox News.

Kendra Espinoza and her daughters. Espinoza is a plaintiff in a school choice case that’s made its way to the Supreme Court. (Institute for Justice)

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Others see the case as an assault on the separation of church and state.

“The decision by the court to review the Montana case signals that the majority may be gunning for the strong provisions in most state constitutions that bar public school funds from going to religion or religious schools,” the Freedom from Religion Foundation, a liberal advocacy group, said in a June 28 statement.

Government money going to religious schools doesn’t necessarily violate the First Amendment, but appeals courts are split on whether excluding such schools from programs like Montana’s violates religious freedom.

The legal staff of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, which says it plans to file an amicus curiae brief with the Supreme Court supporting the Montana decision in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue. Patrick Elliott, who spoke with Fox News, sits in the bottom row, second from the right. (FFRF)

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The tax-credit scholarship program, passed in May 2015, gave Montanans up to a $150 credit for donating to private scholarship organizations, which helped students pay for their choice of private schools.

It’s similar to many programs across the U.S., and other states have proposed tax-credit scholarship programs but not passed them due to confusion about their legality.

FFRF attorney Patrick Elliott says the Supreme Court should leave decisions on these programs to state courts.

“I think this case involves interference with state rights,” he told Fox News. “States can adopt constitutional protections without federal interference.”

Espinoza said she enrolled her daughters in a private Christian school because she wanted a values-based education that would challenge them academically, but she has trouble paying for tuition and relies on scholarships. She planned to use Montana’s tax-credit scholarship program.

“I’ve been working two and three jobs just to make ends meet,” she said. “There was a question of whether I could afford it.”

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But the Montana Department of Revenue said providing tax credits for donations that later help pay tuition at private schools amounts to indirect funding of religious education by the state, in violation of the “No-Aid clause” – also known as a Blaine Amendment. It made a rule preventing Espinoza or other religious school families from receiving the scholarships.

Espinoza and the libertarian Institute for Justice sued the department over that rule in December 2015, but the Montana Supreme Court invalidated the entire program last year. Espinoza’s lawyers say the program was voided simply because it afforded a religious option, and the U.S. Supreme Court should restore what the Montana legislature passed.

“The federal Constitution prohibits that kind of animus toward religion and the fact that animus is codified in the Montana Constitution in the Blaine Amendment only makes things that much worse,” Institute for Justice senior attorney Michael Bindas said.

Blaine Amendments originated in the 1870s when, as Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in a 2000 case, “it was an open secret that ‘sectarian’ was code for ‘Catholic.’” Thirty-seven states have Blaine Amendments today, but Bindas calls them, “vestiges of 19th century anti-Catholic bigotry.”

Espinoza’s lawyers also cite Trinity Lutheran, a Supreme Court case from 2017 that ruled Missouri couldn’t deny a church a grant to resurface its playground simply because it was a church.

But Elliott said Blaine Amendments don’t mention a specific religion and have operated without bias.

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“No funding of religious education was something states decided early on because they didn’t want to have a religiously segregated school system,” he said. “Public schools are open regardless of religious background. That’s not always the case with private schools.”

If the justices reverse Montana’s decision, it could open the door to more scholarship and voucher programs across the U.S.

“This case has the potential to remove Blaine Amendments as a barrier to school choice throughout the country,” Bindas said.

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TRUMP tells George Stephanopoulos “there isn’t anything wrong with listening” to foreign info about rivals, what do you think?

Trump says he ‘would want to hear’ info on 2020 rivals from foreign governments – and outrage follows
Democrats are outraged after President Trump said in an interview Wednesday that he would be willing to listen to foreign governments if they approached him with information on a political rival. “I think I’d want to hear it. … I See More think you might want to listen. There isn’t anything wrong with listening,” he said in an interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos. Trump added he would not necessarily contact the FBI if such an approach was made, fueling Democrats’ ire. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., a 2020 candidate for president, tweeted, “It’s time for Congress to begin impeachment hearings.”

Still, Trump supporters point out that Democrats may be hypocrites on this issue, as they failed to condemn fellow Democrats, including representatives of Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee (DNC), for funding the creation of the infamous and discredited anti-Trump “Steele dossier” by former British spy Christopher Steele. Fox News’ Sean Hannity called the Trump-Stephanopoulos interview a “nonstory” and a “genius setup”by Trump for his foes in the “media mob.” The interview was released hours after House Judiciary Committee Democrats announced that former White House Communications Director Hope Hicks has agreed to testify before the panel next week on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report.

Brother of ‘Shark Tank’ star Barbara Corcoran found dead in Dominican Republic hotel room
The intrigue surrounding vacation spots in the Dominican Republic deepened Wednesday with the news that Jonathan Corcoran, a retired New Jersey businessman and brother of ABC “Shark Tank” judge Barbara Corcoran, was found dead in a hotel room there in April. Jonathan Corcoran’s death was first reported by the gossip site TMZ and confirmed to Fox News by Emily Burke, Barbara Corcoran’s assistant. The revelation comes as the popular Caribbean vacation spot is making worldwide headlines with a recent rash of suspicious deaths of U.S. tourists plus the shooting of retired Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz. It was unclear where Corcoran stayed at the time of his death. TMZ said no one knows exactly what led to his death, though Barbara Corcoran told the outlet that she was told he had a heart attack.

Six suspects, including alleged gunman, in custody in David Ortiz shooting
Six suspects have been detained in the shooting of former Boston Red Sox star David Ortiz, including the alleged gunman, authorities in the Dominican Republic said Wednesday. Four other suspects were being pursued in the shooting, which witnesses said was carried out by two men on a motorcycle and two other groups of people in cars, the country’s chief prosecutor, Jean Alain Rodríguez, told a news conference. Authorities identified the alleged shooter as Rolfy Ferreyra, aka Sandy. Police Maj. Gen. Ney Aldrin Bautista Almonte said the coordinator of the attack also was among the suspects in custody. He claimed the man was offered 400,000 Dominican pesos, or about $7,800, to carry out the shooting Sunday evening at a popular Santo Domingo bar.

Two oil tankers damaged in suspected attack in the Gulf of Oman, crew evacuated
Two oil tankers were damaged in a suspected attack off the Gulf of Oman early Thursday, according to multiple reports. The U.S. Navy’s Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet told Reuters it was assisting two tankers in the Gulf of Oman after receiving two distress calls. “We are aware of the reported attack on tankers in the Gulf of Oman. U.S. Naval Forces in the region received two separate distress calls at 6:12 a.m. local time and a second one at 7:00 a.m.,” Joshua Frey of the Fifth Fleet said. The Fleet did not blame anyone for the attack..

Tonight: Fox News town hall with 2020 Dem Julian Castro 
Fox News is scheduled to host 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Julian Castro, former Housing and Urban Development secretary, for a town hall at 6:30 p.m. ET Thursday. “Special Report” host Bret Baier and “The Story” host Martha MacCallum will moderate the one-hour event live from Phoenix.

Baier and MacCallum recently moderated similar events with 2020 hopefuls Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Amy Klobuchar and potential candidate Howard Schultz. Their Fox News colleague Chris Wallace moderated a town hall with South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who’s also in the running for the Democratic presidential nomination. Tune in to Fox News tonight at 6:30 p.m. ET. 

52 years in the making: St. Louis Blues win their first-ever Stanley Cup championship
The St. Louis Blues beat the Boston Bruins 4-1 in Wednesday night’s deciding game for the Stanley Cup, to win their firstchampionship. The victory was 52 years in the making. Ryan O’Reilly scored for the fourth straight game and rookie Jordan Binnington stopped 32 shots in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. Alex Pietrangelo added a goal and an assist and Brayden Schenn and Zach Sanford also scored for St. Louis. The Blues’ championship run is remarkable because it was so unthinkable just five months ago. The team woke up on New Year’s Day with the worst record in the league but then won 30 of their final 49 regular-season games and soared through the playoffs to reach the final for the first time since 1970.

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‘X-Men’ director Bryan Singer to pay $150G to settle sex assault claim: report.

MINDING YOUR BUSINESS
General Motors to put $150M toward Michigan plant to ramp up production, company says.
This is how Americans spend their money based on their education level.
Top five vacation spots targetedby online booking scams: report.

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