Advocates of private school vouchers filed long-awaited appeals last week in the U.S. Supreme Court, urging the justices to uphold a program that lets Cleveland schoolchildren use government aid to attend private and religious schools.
Lawyers representing the state of Ohio and the 4,000 children participating in the voucher program filed separate petitions asking the high court to review a federal appeals court ruling striking down the program as an establishment of religion in violation of the U.S. Constitution.
“This case presents in crisp, timely, and urgent fashion one of the most urgent constitutional issues of our day,” says the appeal filed by the Institute for Justice, a Washington organization that represents voucher families in Cleveland.
“Our goal is to end the uncertainty and establish school choice,” said Clint Bolick, who as the institute’s legal director has argued in defense of voucher programs in several court cases.
A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, in Cincinnati, ruled 2-1 in December that the Cleveland Scholarship and Tutoring Program violates the First Amendment because of its inclusion of religious schools.The program, which provides annual vouchers worth as much as $2,250, has been allowed to continue operating pending the outcome of a legal challenge led by the major teachers’ unions.
Ohio filed its appeal May 23, and voucher families filed a separate petition the next day.
“These children need a chance,” said Roberta Kitchen, a Cleveland mother whose children use vouchers at a Lutheran school. “I equate sending them back to the public schools with death.”
The Supreme Court has passed up several chances in recent years to consider the constitutionality of including religious schools in government- financed voucher programs, most notably its refusal to review a Wisconsin Supreme Court decision upholding Milwaukee’s voucher program.
But many observers believe the justices may be prepared to accept the Cleveland case for review.
“Certainly, I’m not unaware of the general view of a lot of people that this is the test case,” said Robert Chanin, general counsel of the National Education Association, who has taken a leading role in opposing voucher programs in court. “We’ll just have to see.”
A version of this article appeared in the May 30, 2001 edition of Education Week as Cleveland Voucher Decision Appealed To Supreme Court