The Montana Supreme Court has ruled that the state’s constitution makes illegal voucher payments for students to attend religious-oriented public schools. It’s an issue spreading nationwide and likely headed to a federal court test.

The case applied to a law that gives a tax credit for contributions to a nonprofit organization that then provides tuition assistance payments to private schools. The voucher program effectively lets a taxpayer bypass the usual tax collection and state distributionj process and send it direct to a private school. A move to establish such a program in Arkansas has been underway for several years. The Montana court ruled 5-2 that this amounted to unconstitutional indirect state support of church schools.

The Montana Constitution explicitly prohibits direct or indirect aid to church schools. The Arkansas Constitution carries some language that suggests an aversion to spending in support of religion, but no such specific provision.

Arkansas already provides full minimum foundation education funding for students with disabilities to attend private schools in Arkansas, nearly all of them run by religious organizations. The U.S. Supreme Court has allowed payment of public dollars for education in private schools.

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Losers in the Montana case say the decision amounts to religious discrimination and plan a federal court appeal.