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A New Choice

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The idea of giving parents public money to send their children to private religious schools--a topic of debate for years in policy circles and the courts--has become a reality for hundreds of low-income families in Cleveland.

In August, an Ohio appeals court refused without comment to issue an injunction that would have prevented the $5.5 million state-financed voucher program from taking effect. As a result, more than 1,700 low-income children have enrolled this fall in 49 private and religious schools, the majority of which are Roman Catholic schools.

State judge Lisa Sadler upheld the constitutionality of the program in July. ("Judge OKs Voucher Plan," September 1996.) But opponents of the program, including teachers' unions and advocates of strict church-state separation, quickly appealed her ruling and asked for an injunction that would block the program's start. On August 12, a three-judge panel of the Ohio Court of Appeals refused that request. The court will still consider the constitutionality of the program, but that could take six months to a year.

Donald Mooney Jr., a lawyer representing the voucher opponents, said state law does not allow his clients to appeal the injunction denial. Instead, they must pursue the merits of their appeal before the state appeals court. If they lose there, they can appeal to the state supreme court and then the U.S. Supreme Court. "We're probably looking at trying to stop the program by year two," he said.

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