MT Supreme Court Breaks with Case Law, Delivers Blow to Students and Families


December 12, 2018
Contact: Ross Izard at

Montana Supreme Court breaks with established case law, delivers blow to Montana students and families

Helena, Montana – Today, a 5-2 Montana Supreme Court ruling in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue struck down the state’s scholarship tax credit program as unconstitutional because it allows parents to choose private faith-based schools. Under that program, individuals and businesses could claim a tax credit worth up to $150 for contributions to nonprofits providing K-12 private school scholarships.

“Today’s ruling was a disappointment for kids and families in Montana,” said ACE Scholarships Policy Director Ross Izard. “But this is not the end of the road. This ruling has paved the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which will now have the opportunity to settle the issue of religious discrimination in parental choice programs once and for all.”

Montana private school leaders expressed similar disappointment with the ruling, but pledged to continue working for students and families. “While the court broke with existing precedent to uphold religious discrimination in our state, we will continue to promote support for students and families to make the educational choices that are right for them,” said David Culpepper, head of school at Foothills Community Christian School.

He added, “This decision will not deter us from continuing to invest educationally every day in Montana students as the legal debate continues.”

In striking down the scholarship program, the Espinoza ruling defies U.S. Supreme Court precedent in Trinity Lutheran v. Comer and case law in half a dozen other states. It also invalidates the program for all students, not just those who chose faith-based schools.

The ruling marks the first time in American history that a state supreme court has not upheld a scholarship tax credit program using private donations to fund student scholarships.

ACE Scholarships serves nearly 1,000 students across 62 private partner schools in Montana.