Schoolkids' debt to the late Chief

By Krista Kafer William Rehnquist, who served on the Supreme Court for 33 years, and as Chief Justice for the past 19 years, was laid to rest this week. The Chief Justice will long be remembered by reformers for his support of parental choice in education. Ultimately millions of children will learn and thrive at good schools because Rehnquist understood the Constitution and importance of freedom in education.

Two decades ago, Justice Rehnquist wrote the majority opinion upholding the Minnesota law (enacted in 1955) enabling parents to take an income tax deduction for their children’s private school expenses. Mueller v. Allen set an important precedent for school choice.

Rehnquist later wrote the majority opinion in Zobrest v. Catalina Foothills School District, upholding educational services for a disabled student at a private school. The Chief's support for education choice culminated in the Zelman v. Simmons-Harris case upholding the Cleveland voucher program. Writing for the majority, Rehnquist declared the program one of “true private choice” and thus consistent with the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Thousands of families benefit from tax credits/deductions and scholarship programs in Arizona, Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Florida, Ohio, Utah, Wisconsin, Arizona, Maine, Vermont, and Washington, D.C.

Their children are able to attend schools of choice because of these and other Supreme Court decisions affirming the constitutionality of school choice. As legislators increasingly enact choice programs, ultimately millions of children will depend on this legal foundation. Their future is the Chief Justice’s legacy.