If you are able to get past the paywall, you should go read the piece, because there's a whole chunk of background that virtually every commenter on the case has simply missed.
Do Mr. Roberts and his eight co-workers fully appreciate the public-spirited grandeur of the winter of 1971-72, when 100 Montanans, including housewives, ministers, a veterinarian and a beekeeper, gathered at the state capital, Helena, for the constitutional convention, affectionately nicknamed the “Con Con”?
That was the occasion for the writing of the Montana constitution, the document that includes the idea that public money should not pay for private sectarian schooling. That's the law the Espinoza suit aims to gut, and voucher fans have characterized as "antiquated" and "Jim Crow for Christians." The lawsuit has been described as standing up to Blaine amendments, laws adopted by states that are pretty clearly anti-immigrant by way of being anti-Catholic. But that's not what was going on in Montana at Con Con, says Vowell.
The representatives arranged themselves not by party, but sat alphabetically, whioch strikes me as an awesome way to reorganize Congress or any other legislature. And they were not particularly God-averse-- many of the major players were clergy. Witness the very first sentence in the document:
We the people of Montana grateful to God for the quiet beauty of our state, the grandeur of our mountains, the vastness of our rolling plains, and desiring to improve the quality of life, equality of opportunity and to secure the blessings of liberty for this and future generations do ordain and establish this constitution.
What Con Con was particularly focused on was the public versus the private. You've heard of company towns, but Montana was viewed as a company state that wore the "copper collar" and controlled by the Anaconda Company. The Con Con delegates were committed to the public interest, and so public funds were to be spent only on public agencies.
Vowell points out that the dynamics of public education are different out West:
Article X, Section 1, of the ’72 Constitution proclaims that it is the duty of the state to “develop the full educational potential of each person.” That is an expensive ideal in a desolate wasteland. Public schools are supposed to be a volume business, but tell that to the Great Plains. The state of Montana has about 60,000 fewer inhabitants than the number of students enrolled in New York City’s public school system.
Espinoza, who wants to send her children to a private religious school that charges more for tuition than the University of Montana, says that public schools "have plenty of money." But Vowell points out that a surge in vouchers will not just move money from public schools to private schools, but from the rural areas to the cities.
The public schools the framers conjured ask the taxpayers to splurge on fairness, not privilege, to pull together, not away. That beekeeper, those clergymen and moms chartered a state in a republic where a first grader on horseback is supposed to be as big and important as the mountains.
If the result of Espinoza is a wave of voucher money, the result will be a Montana where your available choices for school will very much depend on your zip code.