Richmond Academy

Court upholds school vouchers

Taxes can be used to send students to parochial schools


The Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the use of taxpayer-paid school vouchers to send children to private schools, finding that a Cleveland program does not violate the Constitution’s church-state doctrine even though the majority of students use the vouchers to attend parochial schools.

THE 5-4 RULING led by the court’s conservative majority lowers the figurative wall separating church and state and clears a constitutional cloud from school vouchers, a divisive education idea dear to political conservatives and championed by President Bush.
       Opponents call vouchers a fraud meant to siphon tax money from struggling public schools.
       The court endorsed a 6-year-old pilot program in inner-city Cleveland that provides parents a tax-supported education stipend.
       Parents may use the money to opt out of one of the worst-rated public schools in the nation.
       The court majority said the program does not put the government in the unconstitutional position of sponsoring religious indoctrination, even though more than 95 percent of the vouchers are used to subsidize Catholic or other religious schooling.
       Key to the court’s reasoning was that the 4,500 children in the Cleveland program have a theoretical choice of attending religious schools, secular private academies, suburban public schools, or charter schools run by parents or others outside the education establishment.

       The fact that only a handful of secular schools and no suburban public schools have signed up to accept voucher students is not the fault of the program itself, Ohio officials argued.
       The court majority agreed.
       “We believe that the program challenged here is a program of true private choice,” Chief Justice William H. R wrote for himself and Justices Sandra Day O’Connor, Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy and Clarence Thomas.
       Dissenters argued that the Cleveland program goes too far toward state-sponsored religion and does not offer parents a true choice among schools.
       “There is, in any case, no way to interpret the 96.6 percent of current voucher money going to religious schools as reflecting a free and genuine choice by the families that apply for vouchers,” Justice David Souter wrote. He was joined in dissent by Justices John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer.
       The Bush administration sided with Ohio, arguing that the program is constitutional because parents — not the church-run schools — control where the money goes.
       Congress last year shelved bills authorizing school vouchers. But Bush resurrected the idea, proposing in his 2003 budget to give families up to $2,500 per child in tax credits if they choose a private school rather than a failing neighborhood public school.

       Following the court’s hearing on arguments in February, Education Secretary Rod Paige said he would continue advocating on behalf of both improved public schools and school choice.
       In another schools case Thursday, the court approved random drug tests for many public high school students, saying anti-drug concerns outweigh an individual’s right to privacy. That vote also was 5-4.

       Thursday’s ruling on vouchers continued a trend of the court in recent years to ease the path toward state support of religion.
       In a case two years ago, the court ruled that providing educational equipment to religious schools with taxpayer money does not violate the Constitution. Three years earlier, it held that it was constitutional for public school teachers to provide supplemental, remedial instruction to disadvantaged students in religious schools.
       In 1983, it ruled that taxpayers could deduct tuition, textbooks, and transportation expenses from state income taxes — expenses incurred by children attending private and religious schools.

Bush renews school-voucher push

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Last modified: May 30, 2003