The vouchers, which are worth as much as $2,500 each, will enable 3,000 children from poor families to attend private schools this year at taxpayers’ expense. The Cleveland program is the only one in the country that allows vouchers to be used for tuition at religious schools.
Voucher supporters hailed the decision to allow the program to continue while the state high court reviews the issue.
“This is tremendous news for the kids who faced the threat of having to leave good schools,” said Clint Bolick, a Washington lawyer who is defending the program.
Mr. Bolick is also working on a similar case in Wisconsin, where Republican Gov. Tommy G. Thompson is seeking to expand Milwaukee’s voucher program to include religious schools.
The Wisconsin Court of Appeals heard arguments last month in an appeal of a lower court’s decision that barred the addition of religious schools to the 7-year-old program. (See Education Week, Jan. 22, 1997.)
In Ohio, the high court’s July 24 action was a victory for Gov. George V. Voinovich, a Republican, who helped launch the voucher program last year in the 72,000-student district.
A state appeals court ruled in May that the vouchers violate federal and state constitutional bans on government aid to religious institutions. The court noted that most of the participating students attended religious schools. (See Education Week, May 7, 1997.)
But the Ohio legislature went ahead and allocated about $15 million for the Cleveland program for the next two years, which will allow 1,000 new kindergartners to enroll this fall and 3rd grade graduates to continue attending private schools for 4th grade. New participants are chosen by lottery.
Lisa Henderson, whose twins attended 1st grade at St. Boniface School last year, said she was relieved her daughters could continue using vouchers at the Roman Catholic school. She is looking for work as a medical assistant and aid she could never afford the tuition on her own.
“They couldn’t even spell their names when they went to public school,” Ms. Henderson said. “At St. Boniface, they’re learning a lot more and a lot faster. The teachers have time to work with them individually, and their rooms aren’t packed like in the regular schools.”
But while Ms. Henderson and some educators believe vouchers are crucial to raising achievement among urban children, critics say they sap sorely needed resources and attention from the public schools.
The most prominent plaintiff in the Ohio lawsuit challenging vouchers is the Ohio Federation of Teachers. “There’s no way to predict what the supreme court will do,” said Donald J. Mooney, a lawyer representing the teachers’ union in the case. “But we think the law is on our side.”
A version of this article appeared in the August 06, 1997 edition of Education Week