The Federalism Project

American Enterprise Institute

Supreme Court

Do Vouchers Violate the First Amendment?
Zelman v. Simmons-Harris,
No. 00-1751
Hanna Perkins v. Simmons-Harris, No. 00-1777
Taylor v. Simmons-Harris, No. 00-1779


In one of the most riveting cases of the term, the Court is considered an Ohio pilot program that gives low-income Cleveland parents vouchers to offset the costs of private school education. Participating schools must meet state standards and may not discriminate on the basis of race or religion.  Since most of the private schools receiving voucher funds are religious, lower courts have considered--and disagreed over--whether this program is an establishment of religion. We predict the Court will use these cases as an opportunity to promote federalism: education policy, after all, is a traditional state and local function.  Didn't Justice Brandeis say something once about a "single courageous state" trying novel social experiments?  

The 6-3 decision in last term's Good News Bible Club suggested the Court's growing unwillingness to use the 1st Amendment discriminate against religion on the basis of a so-called "wall of separation" (see Richard Garnett's WSJ analysis). And the June 27 decision affirmed it: the Ohio pilot program does not offend the Establishment Clause because it was enacted for a vaid secular purpose. The only "preference" in the law, the Court maintained, is for low income students in crummy inner city schools.

    Decision here

The Sixth Circuit case striking down the program on First Amendment grounds

The Ohio Supreme Court case upholding it, in part ("the School Voucher Program does not create an unconstitutional link between government and religion").

Is there a correlation between education choice and academic achievement? Report says: you bet

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